Jesuit Refugee Agency Calls on Countries to Include Refugees in COVID-19 Vaccination

Coronavirus vaccine, stock image.

The international refugee organization of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), is calling on countries across the globe to include refugees and other forcibly displaced persons in COVID-19 vaccination.

In the Thursday, March 4 report obtained by ACI Africa, the leadership of the Jesuit agency, which runs programs in six continents among them Africa, “calls on global leaders to ensure that COVID-19 vaccine efforts prioritize all countries equally, and include refugees and other forcibly displaced people in each country’s vaccine distribution plans.”

“Equal access to vaccinations is necessary to ensure public health for all in society. We cannot heal and move forward until all of us, including forcibly displaced people, are vaccinated,” JRS International Director, Fr. Thomas H. Smolich has been quoted as saying in the report.

As an entity accompanying forcibly displaced persons in 56 countries across the world, “our presence highlights the moral and ethical obligation to ensure that refugees are safe and protected from the virus,” the Jesuit Cleric adds.

“With the large majority of all forcibly displaced people living in the developing world, JRS particularly supports non-discriminatory policies that include refugees and displaced people in vaccine distribution and education efforts in these countries,” JRS officials say.


In the report, they underscore, “The dignity of each human person must be the guiding principle for global and national vaccination efforts.”

In making their case for an inclusive COVID-19 vaccination, the JRS officials reference Pope Francis’ call to government leaders, business, and international organizations to foster “cooperation and not competition, and to seek a solution for everyone” rather than “letting the law of the marketplace and patents take precedence over the law of love and the health of humanity.”

They reiterate the Holy Father’s call on the need for “vaccines for all, especially…the most vulnerable and needy of all regions.”

“His argument has not fallen on deaf ears,” officials of Jesuit agency say referencing Pope Francis, and add, “The World Health Organization is encouraging equitable vaccine distribution through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative, which includes special provisions for refugees.”

In the March 4 report, officials of the Rome-based entity further say that they support “efforts to temporarily suspend intellectual and patent rights for COVID-19 vaccines, allowing more rapid and cost-effective vaccine production in the developing world itself.”

More in Africa

“While Angola, Colombia and South Africa are making plans that exclude or severely restrict the access of refugees to vaccination, Jordan has made a commitment that anyone on Jordanian soil can register and will receive the vaccine free of charge,” the leadership of the 40-year-old entity says.

The leadership of the entity that runs programs in 15 African countries says, however, that access to the vaccine is not enough because “many forcibly displaced people live without legal status” and are afraid of being detained and deported through their participation in vaccination programs.

This is an issue that “must be addressed,” officials of the entity that strives to accompany, serve, and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, that they may heal, learn, and determine their own future, say.

“The vaccine brings hope to end the pandemic’s suffering, and JRS affirms that everyone is entitled to share in that hope,” they add, reiterating the sentiments of Fr. Smolich.

They go on to highlight some of the “great challenges” that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on displaced people around the world such as heightened risk of gender-based violence for refugee women and girls confined to their homes as well as the stunting of employment and economic opportunities.


“The global economic recession has caused food shortages in refugee camps and poor communities,” they add in the March 4 statement.

Amid COVID-19 challenges, JRS officials say, “We will continue to accompany refugees and work with regional partner organizations to provide support where needed.”

They call on “all decision-makers to address the needs of everyone within and beyond their borders, including those who have been forcibly displaced.”

Founded in November 1980 by Jesuit Fr. Andrew Arrupe, the mission of JRS is “to accompany, serve, and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, that they may heal, learn, and determine their own future.”