Appeal from our Chair: “Our Mission is an Act of Resistance”

28 June 2024

Chair of the Board of JRS Australia, Dr Eve Lester, alongside JRS Australia Board Member and refugee leader Muzafar Ali at JRS Australia's 2023 end of year gathering.

Message from our Chair: “Our Mission is an Act of Resistance”

Dr Eve Lester, Chair of the Board of JRS Australia, shared her reflections on our work over the last year, in our 2023 Annual Report, released July 2024. Please see a reproduction of her message below, as Eve appeals to our community for support during this difficult time, where the people we serve are in dire need, and JRS Australia is their last hope.

2023 was another challenging year for all those within the JRS Australia family.

We continued to draw inspiration from the JRS mission of accompanying, serving and advocating for and with refugees, people seeking asylum, and other migrants in a vulnerable situation. We also drew inspiration from those whom we serve and with whom we work, who are equally part of the JRS Australia family. As the Chair of the JRS Australia Board, I can say on my own account and my fellow Board members that we are constantly in awe of the extraordinary amount and quality of service that JRS Australia is able to deliver, and the ability of the staff and volunteers to do so with such warmth and generosity of spirit. We are also in awe of the strength and resilience of those we serve.

The theme I have chosen to focus on this year is the theme of resistance. I see the mission of JRS — of accompaniment, service, and advocacy — as an act of resistance. It is an act of resistance that is not just non-violent. As an act of resistance, it profoundly and effectively represents our collective refusal to accept or tolerate laws, policies and practices that seek to unpick the fabric of the bond of our common humanity. In a global context, we continue to bear witness to the cruel and devastating human effects of conflict and other human degradations. Notably, but not only, the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza have resulted in an unforeseen cohort of vulnerable ‘temporary residents’ needing JRS support.

I see the mission of JRS — of accompaniment, service, and advocacy — as an act of resistance.
Dr Eve Lester, Chair of JRS Australia

Within this context, the staff at JRS Australia continue — day in day out — to witness, and feel, the weight of the human privations that have for too long underpinned Australian refugee policies, whether through the prolonged deprivation of liberty or denial of the basic necessities and opportunities of life. Policies that seek to undermine, compromise or erase that shared bond. Policies that are (too often wilfully) blind to the living realities of people whose lives have been uprooted and that remain enduringly and unnecessarily precarious. We know and bear daily witness to the harms these policies do. And it is our mission that provides us with a framework for resisting them.

Under the impressive and dedicated leadership of Tamara Domicelj, our extraordinarily talented staff and volunteers have embraced and harnessed our mission to powerful effect.  They resist with the generous gift of both their professionalism and the kindness of their human touch, giving dedicated and unflinching service whether through complex casework, our Employment and Finding Safety programs, or our advocacy and outreach.

We are deeply grateful for the support of Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen and the Diocese of Parramatta, as well as the Sisters of Mercy, Parramatta, for their continued support in providing us with the premises from which we work.  They graciously provide us with spaces that are vital for us to offer our services, and for ensuring that we can provide a safe space for people leading otherwise extremely precarious lives.  We also extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to the many Jesuit and Ignatian institutions (particularly schools and parishes) that support our work with such good energy and generosity.

The financial challenges for organisations working across this sector are legion, and they run deep.  JRS Australia is certainly not immune from these challenges, a story that our accounts at year end tell undeniably.  However, as an organisation we have grown significantly over the last 10 years, and through careful financial budgeting and stewardship we continue to retain healthy reserves and therefore remain well placed to navigate and weather the ups and downs of those challenges.  In 2024, with the support of the JRS International Office, we remain confident that our next strategic planning process, scheduled to conclude by the end of 2024, will provide us with a strong blueprint and roadmap for accompaniment, service, and advocacy over the next five years.

We continue to be deeply grateful to you, our faithful supporters, who also embrace our mission through your generous tied and untied donations and grants.
Dr Eve Lester, Chair of the Board of JRS Australia

In terms of the policy landscape, an early optimism that the change of government would see some of the worst policy excesses and effects of previous governments took another hit at year end following a High Court decision in which the Court held that it was unlawful to hold a person in immigration indefinitely, where there was no real prospect of their removal from Australia in the reasonably foreseeable future.

Although the result was a win for those opposed to indefinite detention, the toxic and highly racialised discourses that shaped knee-jerk and ill-considered responses in both the media and the Parliament reminded us that the unseemly underbelly of refugee and migration policy debates in Australia, whether in parliament or the public square, is too easily surfaced and the human realities dangerously distortable.  This too we must continue to resist by enabling and inspiring all within the JRS Australia family and wider network to harness, support and share the compassion and love embedded in the JRS mission.

To our Country Director, Tamara Domicelj, and her team of paid staff and volunteers, and on behalf of the Board, my warmest and heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you for your extraordinary dedication, and for embracing the JRS mission and its message of resistance with your whole selves.  In particular I acknowledge Maeve Brown, who left the organisation after nine years of dedicated service.  To the members of the JRS Australia Board, thank you also for generously giving JRS your time and support.

We continue to be deeply grateful to you, our faithful supporters, who also embrace our mission through your generous tied and untied donations and grants.  These are vitally important expressions of support for our mission.  You are all part of an extraordinary pool of individual and philanthropic donors who refuse to turn their backs on the living realities of the people in our community who we serve.  We express our sincere gratitude to you all.

Through our collective and individual efforts — through accompaniment, service and advocacy — it is vital that we continue to work together; to hold together, thread by precious thread, the bond of our common humanity.  You, our supporters, are not just integral to enabling this.  You are part of the doing.  And your support is not only essential and meaningful in practical ways.  It is also uplifting.  We thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.

Dr Eve Lester

Chair of the Board, JRS Australia

You can also listen to Eve directly, in this video shared as part of our 2024 Winter Appeal.

Your gift today will support refugees and people seeking asylum who often have nowhere else to go.

Please click here to donate this end of financial year.