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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Andrew Brown

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Gordon: What are the some of challenges that the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is currently facing and how are they being addressed?

Andy: Our mission is Inspired by the generous love and example of Jesus Christ, where JRS seeks to accompany, serve, and advocate the cause of forcibly displaced people, that they may heal, learn, and determine their own future.

Serving refugees and those displaced all over the world comes with many challenges, but none we can’t overcome collectively. JRS is very much a family where we help each other to accompany, serve and advocate for those who need us most often in areas of conflict, natural disasters or in areas where the Government is oppressive towards its own people.

As Chief Security Officer, we introduced a simple but effective approach to safety & security:

  • Awareness – all staff complete as a minimum requirement training g in certificated online programs to ensure a basic standard. This is then supplemented by in house bespoke online or in person training to help deal with increasingly complex issues.

  • Anticipation – our ability to get good quality information is pivotal to our decision making in the field and at strategic levels. Accessing a range of trusted sources from INSO, UNDSS, ACAPS, and GISF gives us the predictive ability to anticipate conflict or challenge. This pro-active approach helps to keep staff & beneficiaries safe.

  • Avoidance – Our ability to hibernate, relocate & evacuate in the field has become better, with staff knowing what to do and our work environments giving us the ability to shelter at times of crisis.

The last few years have given many unprecedented challenges around safety & security, which thankfully we have been able to navigate to continue our mission. As we approach 2024 there are a number of areas where I think we will see greater challenges:

Extreme Climate Events – we have experienced this across our missions from volcanic eruptions in DRC, floods in Maban, South Sudan to earthquakes in Syria & Afghanistan. There is no doubt that the extremes in our climate will continue to be felt, so ensuring staff are properly equipped and trained is essential in them being able to mitigate risks and guide our beneficiaries during crises that arise from such events.

Geopolitical – the posturing between the global powers continues to bring tensions across the world. The outcome of the 2024 US elections will very much impact on US/China relations and the continued support to NATO in the Ukrainian conflict and now the Gaza/Israel conflict. Across Africa we have seen an increase in both terrorism and military coups that quickly destabilise populations and, in some cases, ignite mass movements of people fleeing the violence.

Digital/Cyber Threats – the new dimension of artificial intelligence can influence the narrative around a crisis by fuelling the vast amount of disinformation to the affected population, which can deepen divides and cause undue anxiety to staff accompanying beneficiaries when they do not know what the truth of a situation is. Also, the ever-present risk to our digital and cyber security in the field and at our offices where a ransomware attack can deny us access to our data and can unwittingly expose beneficiaries to danger if their data is stolen. Where Governments conduct mass surveillance on its population, teaching staff to operate ‘under the radar’ of this digital scrutiny is vital.

Crime & Terrorism – as we continue to operate in high-risk areas, there is the ever-present threat from crime & terrorism and whilst we are attuned to such risks it is our ability and agility to hibernate, relocate and if necessary, evacuate that keeps staff and beneficiaries safe. In countries where the Government takes a strong stance against criminality, we are likely to see a greater authoritarian approach that may impose restrictions on our work.

Migration – we have seen over many conflicts now; it is our ability to rise to the challenges in receiving people displaced by violence and then sustain our services with the ebb and flow of families needing our help whilst at the same time wanting to return to their homeland. Unfortunately, in many conflicts the migration of the population is often used as a tactic to destabilise a neighbouring country and cause more division between communities.

We are fortunate that we have a small team of safety & security advisors helping to keep staff safe and ensuring that our missions continue to operate safely in difficult environments. In leading this team, we share our expertise and share stories across JRS so that we continue to learn from each other.

2024 will bring many challenges, but I’m confident that we are on the right path to continue to navigate the obstacles out in our way so we cannot falter in delivering our mission. With funding from donors, government grants and other sources we can continue to reach those who need us most.

Gordon: Please share with our readers an overview of your daily activity.

Andy: I always start the day with walking the dog, it helps stretch the legs but also clear the mind and give contemplation time for prayer before work.

Keeping people safe can be an all-consuming activity, so on a daily basis a read over all the intelligence covering our global missions to monitor activity and very much monitor the geopolitical landscape. By doing this I pick up on trends and can highlight this to country directors, so we proactively prepare for any foreseeable challenges. I’ll often reach out to Country Directors to check in on how they and the team are doing.

Since August 2021, I’ve helped keep Afghan families safe in Pakistan before their relocation to another country to restart their lives away from the repressive Taliban regime. This has been my labour of love to accompany these families on this journey as I remain in contact with them daily to support and guide them through their difficulties.

By late morning, you’ll find me in the mountains with the dog for exercise but also quiet time. There are times when my job is very stressful in helping people and staff I know navigate through crisis, so having time to switch off and unwind in the wilds of the mountains is vital for my wellbeing. With the wonders of technology, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve taken a call at the top of a mountain to then talk a member of staff quietly through a crisis and guide them to safety, often with the wind howling down the microphone!

Afternoons can be taken up by either training staff online or preparing training materials that help staff understand the different risks and how we can mitigate them. For example, I recently taught staff in JRS Romania on Air Attacks, Drones & Bomb Explosions following drone strikes that entered Romanian air space at Galati, so that they knew what to do in the event of an air raid siren; how to recognise the sound of a Shahad drone and importantly how to keep themselves and the children safe. Knowing what to do can be lifesaving.

Working across the globe means that it is not a 9-5 job, but very much one that has flexibility, where staff feel they can reach out and I’ll respond quickly to help them. In fact, I view my role as more of a calling than a job; I’m blessed with many skills in keeping people safe.

My wife and daughter ensure I maintain a healthy balance between family time and work. Being actively involved in our growing local church where we have over 35 different nationalities helps to fuel my spirit.

Gordon: Thank you for a great interview to give our reader an incisive insight into the work of the Jesuit Refugee Service.

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