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JRS established a presence in northern peninsular Malaysia in partnership with New Thessalonian Apostolate under the Diocese of Penang.

Bishop Bernard of Penang with JRS and NTA teams.

KUALA LUMPUR: Two Catholic social powerhouses, The New Thessalonian Apostolate (NTA) and The Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) have come together to better serve the refugee community scattered across the northern region of Malaysia.

NTA is the first home-grown Catholic Missionary Organisation under the Titular of the Roman Catholic Church. It is committed to “non-discriminatory, unconditional service of those in need with guiding principles rooted in Catholic Social Teachings”.

JRS is an international Catholic organisation with a mission to “accompany, serve, and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, that they may heal, learn, and determine their future.”

Coinciding with the Extraordinary Mission Month, this much-needed partnership, kicked-off Oct 1, 2019, after a year of planning and extensive ‘needs assessment study’ in the area. These studies, carried out by representatives from JRS regional teams from Bangkok and Jakarta and NTA’s team from Kuala Lumpur and Penang, provided a clearer picture of what needs to be addressed for the refugees in the region and the most effective ways to do so.

NTA patron, Bishop Sebastian Francis said, “Groups that focus on missions such as these are few and far between. They need support as they move forward with creative and intelligent partnerships which places refugees in the centre of the narrative”.

The Northern Territory of this country is often the landing point for many refugees, be it by sea or on foot. Up to now, NTA, with its minimum resources, was the only organisation providing a secular academic education, medical assistance, vocational training and representing UNHCR on matters of protection and documentation.

With almost 40 years of experience, JRS will assist NTA and work on providing protection for refugees. This includes accompaniment, case management, protection and socialemotional learning, psychosocial and mental health support services in the northern region. JRS will also work on the ground with the community on Gender-Based Violence issues, community counselling and child marriages.

JRS Asia Pacific regional director, Louie Bacomo said, “The Diocese of Penang through the leadership of Bishop Sebastian has reached out to the marginalised and excluded in our society regardless of colour, creed and country. JRS is following this inspiration and initiative of the committed people of the Diocese by being present and joining hands with them to reach out to our brothers and sisters in need. The needs are great and so is our inspiration, drawn from Pope Francis, who is showing us a way to welcome, protect, promote and integrate persons forced to leave their homes. We hope this partnership between JRS and NTA will help bring a safe and dignified place not only for refugees, migrants, the forcibly displaced but for all of us who come from the same Compassionate Creator.”

JRS programmes are currently found in 56 countries, serving refugees and other forcibly displaced persons in conflict zones and detention centres, on remote borders and in busy cities. They run pastoral care and psychosocial support programmes in detention centres and refugee camps and provide humanitarian relief in emergency displacement situations. Education and livelihoods programmes provide skill development and opportunities for integration into host communities. They never cease to advocate for the rights of refugees and to articulate the obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us.

Dave Kameron Director-General of NTA said, “Inspired by the generous love and example of Jesus Christ, JRS’ work expresses the commitment of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) to stand with refugees around the world. NTA is proud to join forces with JRS to expand on our existing services and serve the refugee community in a deeper and more meaningful manner.”

Through education and skills training activities, NTA strives to safeguard and uphold human dignity in every way possible, including the right to dignity of work and livelihood. It aims to plug the gap in service of disadvantaged communities who, due to geographical limitations on infrastructure, manpower and capacity, may not be within reach of urban-based charities and NGOs.

One of NTA’s largest and longest-running projects is the NTA School for refugee children that has been looking after the educational, nutritional, health and protection needs of refugee children in Kedah for the last seven years. NTA envisions a world where everyone has the opportunity to become the best versions of themselves, living a life of integral dignity and free from any form of fear, oppression or social discrimination.

Leveraging on each other’s strengths and expertise, the collaboration between NTA and JRS aims to see the expansion and deepening of NTA’s existing work with refugees in the north.

COVID-19 Response

JRS responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia by assisting both refugee and local communities. JRS-NTA team joined the Orang Asli Ministry of St. Michael Church in Ipoh, to serve Orang Asli villages. Together with a doctor and nurses from Fatimah Ipoh Hospital, the team has brought medicine, medical equipment, and food rations to the villages once a month since the pandemic. Acute starvation and protein deficiency are commonly found among women and children as a result of the lockdown that caused income and food shortage in communities.

*Orang Asli is widely regarded as a peninsular Malaysia’s original inhabitants living in secluded jungle locations.

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