Louise Zanré da Silva collected extensive written testimony from people in detention centres about their experiences

Louise Zanré Da Silva


Paul Nicholson SJ

My friend and colleague Louise Zanré da Silva, who has died suddenly aged 47 as the result of a blood clot, dedicated her life to helping refugees who were entangled in the UK asylum system. She was a tireless and fearsome advocate for their rights and human dignity. Her remarkable grasp of the policy and issues was combined with a genuine love and respect for the individuals she encountered; they were never statistics.

Louise was born in Broxburn, West Lothian, to Giulio Zanré, a newsagent, and his wife, Maria, who were Catholics of Italian extraction. In 1990 she gained a law degree at the University of Aberdeen. Louise knew at an early date that she wanted to specialise in human rights, and it was never her intention to practise law, just to inform herself for the fight ahead.

She made a significant contribution to the parliamentary inquiry into conditions in detention centres in 2014, in the form of extensive written testimony collected from detainees.

After graduating, she volunteered with Scottish Catholic Justice and Peace Commission in Edinburgh for a year, and moved to London to work for Pax Christi, the international Catholic peace movement, in 1992. In 1997 she met Paulo da Silva (on a double date with her sister, Dina) and they were married the same year. Paulo died of a heart attack in 2009.

Louise joined Jesuit Refugee Service UK in 2000 and took over as its director in 2002. At about this time she was diagnosed with a rare rheumatoid condition, which she bore with great fortitude. All admired her personal courage, lack of self-pity and sense of humour.

Sarah Teather, the former Liberal Democrat MP, who succeeded Louise as director of JRS in January, said: “The most striking thing for me was the generosity of Louise’s love and service. She cared deeply for the refugees, volunteers and staff and was profoundly loyal.  She set quite an example to follow.”

She is survived by Dina.