JACC: a story of hope in Holy Week
Aron is a refugee who has come into contact with the JACC (Jerusalem African Community Center), the NGO based in Jerusalem that in collaboration with Pro Terra Sancta has been offering concrete help to thousands of African immigrants who cross the border of Israel in search of a better and dignified life. The data collected by the operators working for JACC give us an alarming picture: between 2005 and 2013 about 64 thousand African asylum seekers arrived in Israel, mainly from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia. Many of them cross the Sinai Peninsula, where traffickers do not spare violence, torture and extortion. And when immigrants finally make it to Israel, life doesn’t get any easier.
JACC’s efforts for refugee rights
Although the State of Israel has ratified the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1964 Protocols, in practice less than 1% of asylum applications have been recognised. It is one of the lowest rates in the Western world.
The policy of the state towards these asylum seekers is what is called “group protection” and the only right that this status confers on them is a temporary suspension of deportation. Asylum seekers have to renew their visas every 3-6 months and language barriers often create an additional obstacle in relations with the authorities.
Aron has a serious degenerative eye disease that has made it very difficult for him to work so many hours a day and therefore earn to support himself. He lost his brother two years ago to cancer and was his only relative in Israel. A JACC volunteer had assisted this brother for a long time in securing cancer treatment, until the last day. After his death, other volunteers tried to make sure that Aron, entrusted to their care, could access the money left by his deceased brother.
Now the workers are finishing all the bureaucratic checks to send Aron to Canada, after the social workers of JACC, in collaboration with their rights department, referred him to the UN refugee agency for resettlement in a third country.
Aron’s departure for Canada is scheduled shortly. Meanwhile, tireless volunteers continue to assist him in gaining access to the medical care he needs.
In anticipation of his departure, volunteers are working to get Aron to be able to get the amount of money owed to him by his current or former employers or the Israeli government, to make sure he can start. a new life in Canada on the strongest possible financial foundations.
But who and how many are these people? How many “Arons” live in Jerusalem and how important is the support of JACC and Pro Terra Sancta for them?
More than 3,000 refugees and asylum seekers live in Jerusalem , and 90% are originally from Africa. The vast majority came here with family and children. They live in Israel without a defined status and face many difficulties, such as lack of support networks, exploitation in the workplace, lack of habitable housing, denial of adequate health care and, of course, uncertainty about the future.
That’s where the Jerusalem African Community Center comes in.
A first intuition of JACC was born in 2007 as a volunteer initiative by a group of Israelis and Africans to respond to the needs of the local community of African asylum seekers and improve their quality of life.
The Jerusalem African Community Center officially became an NGO in July 2014 and today is the only NGO working with over 3,000 asylum seekers and people without marital status living across Jerusalem.
JACC staff counts 110 volunteers, 9 employees and 12 external collaborators who together coordinate and manage programs focused on improving the quality of life of asylum seekers.
Over the years the role of JACC has grown and more and more members of the community are turning to them for help that they offer through education, rights advocacy and psychosocial support projects .
The support of Pro Terra Sancta
Pro Terra Sancta supports JACC through vocational training projects to enable people to generate income to support their families and community.
In 2022 alone, Pro Terra Sancta helped hundreds of these refugees, especially the most vulnerable ones living in constant distress in the country.
The specific objective of our latest project is to improve asylum seekers’ access to the labour market in Israel through the provision of tailor-made vocational training courses in Jerusalem. The people who are helped by the JACC Center have eyes that express suffering, but the spirit shines with hope and confident expectation of a better future. Precisely in these days, when Christians all over the world are entering Holy Week, they teach us that after every passion, every effort, every pain, there is always the Resurrection.
Christ’s defeat over death is for Christians the ultimate meaning of every action and for this reason we are eager to bring the message of hope to Aron and to all our friends and brothers who suffer here in the Holy Land and throughout the world.