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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 109 (Suppl.), April 2009

 

 

Experiences on the pastoral care of refugees

 

Archbishop Paul R. Ruzoka

President of Justice and Peace Commission

Tabora, Tanzania

Africa needs to move from a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace: ‘for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation’ (2Cor 5:17). 

In our Pastoral endeavors we need to promote solidarity as the golden rule requires: That solidarity is a determination to commit oneself to the ‘common good’ as opposed to greed and thirst for power (SRS, 38); that is treating others as you would like to be treated. (Mt 7:12; 25:40)[1]

Almost two years ago there was a conference on Peace and Reconciliation in the Great Lakes Region  which was held in Bujumbura organized by the Catholic Peace building Network during which we received the following message from the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI: “May the synergies created give lasting witness at the national, continental and international levels to the will of the Catholic Church to engage herself increasingly, in Christ’s name, in the promotion of justice, peace and development, by taking an active role in the resolution of tensions among communities and by fighting all forms of ethnic discrimination or corruption, in calling on all of the partners concerned at the political and economic levels to become positively engaged in the disinterested service of all and in the search for the common good”.[2]

As participants in this CPN conference we recognized the need for a greater collaboration and coordination of Justice and Peace, education efforts to promote peace and reconciliation not only locally and nationally, but also at the level of the Great Lakes Region (GLR) and by involving the international community in protection of people from atrocities.

  1. Today I am grateful to the President of the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant people, H.E. Renato Raffaele Card. Martino for having organized this conference for the African Continent on the theme, “Towards a better Pastoral care for Migrants and refugees in Africa at the Dawn of the Third Millennium”, taking place here in Nairobi. In 1996 the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace organized a meeting here in Nairobi during the civil war in Zaire that became DRC that brought together Bishops from Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, the host to reflect on the situation. During the Bujumbura Conference we were honored by the presence of His Grace Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, the then President of the symposium  of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) who noted that “Problems of Africa are more and more taking dimensions, as the Great Lakes situation has already shown… (and in East Africa we are not spared). In such a situation, the church in the region cannot but work together to bring peace across each others’ borders”. [3] One of the major issues discussed in Bujumbura was the need for greater regional collaboration and coordination of the Church’s efforts in peace and justice that should start at the grassroots when complementing our Pastoral Programmes based on Holy Scripture and the social doctrine of the Church. “In migration faith discovers once more the universal message of the prophets, who denounce discrimination, oppression, deportation and persecution as contrary to God’s plan. At the same time they proclaim salvation for all, witnessing even in the chaotic events and contradictions of human history, that God continues to work out his plan of salvation until all things are brought together in Christ.” (cf. Eph 1:10)[4] During the recent sad events here in Kenya, following the December, 2007 National elections impasse, the Tanzania Episcopal Conference sent a delegation to meet our brother Bishops here in this very place to extend a hand of solidarity, cooperation and collaboration.[5] We have a saying, “when a house of your neighbour is burning (due to bushfires) you clear your surroundings!” In Tanzania, which has for a long time been considered a ‘haven of peace’ things are taking a wrong direction with current corruption scandals at the higher echelon of leadership. The Justice and Peace Commission of TEC had called upon the people of God and the public at large to reflect on the current situation of the country spelling out that, Ethical values have to be upheld in building a society.[6] 

Refugees in Tanzania.

  1. In Tanzania during the recent years (since 1964/5 with the Rwandese refugees in Mwese Camp, Mpanda; and 1972 and 1993 with Burundian refugees; then in 1994 (Rwandese) and 1996/7 being Congolese from DRC) the church met the refugees where they were placed in Camps. Over the years we administered to them as ‘quasi – Parishes’ using our existing structures and local personnel. But in 1997 we thought of looking for more specialized Pastors and personnel to assist in this regard. In Kigoma where I had been for the last 18 years we invited the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and the Spiritan Refugee Service (SRS) who came in 1997 after the closure of Benako Camp, Ngara District, in Rulenge Diocese for Rwandese refugees in 1996. They made a difference in their approach by being more closer to the refugees involving clergy, Religious men and women and the laity who helped to do more than just seeing to instructions aiming at preparing people for Sacraments and other pastoral needs usually carried out under normal Parish routine.Added programmes included being present to the refugees on daily basis with programmes like counseling, peace – education for conflict resolution and Reconciliation as well as liaising with other international organizations serving the refugees like the UNHCR and its ancillary bodies – World Food Programmes (WFP), International Rescue Committee (IRC – for health). ‘Doctor without borders’ and government officials directly working with refugees. At diocesan level, there was a Refugee Pastoral and Social Services Office that coordinated refugee Pastoral activities. Some of the organizations were so technocratic in their operations that they sometimes put off the refugees: “They (the Aid Agencies) make me feel like a flat bicycle tyre”.[7]  But the pastoral worker in refugee situation has to create an ambiance of confidentiality and a sense of trustful relationship that opens up the heart and mind of the refugee that he/she may start talking. In our case in Kigoma, for example, there was a constant question put to us: ‘Is the church in Burundi still consider us as their faithful too? Are these programmes on peace and reconciliation or peace education as such being carried out in Burundi too?’ 

Cross-Border Pastoral Collaboration And Coordination.

  1. From such concerns we began to look for ways to link the refugees with their home church. In January, 2002 we brought together the Pastoral workers in the camps of Kigoma and Rulenge together with a delegation from Burundi – two Bishops: Archbishop Simon Ntanwana of Gitega and the late Bishop Bernard Bududira of Bururi who came with a good number of Priests and lay people working with Caritas and Justice and Peace offices of the Bishops’ Conference. It was a break through. We formed a Joint Commission for Refugees (JCR) of the two Episcopal Conferences of Burundi and Tanzania with a programme of exchange visits: to refugee camps in Tanzania and the Internally Displaced People (IDPS) in Burundi three times a year. Within two years we had visited almost all the camps in Tanzania twelve in number and four IDPS in Burundi. During such visits we held meetings after which a communiqué could be issued and celebrated the Eucharist in a given camp or IDP where government officials were also invited and the responses have been encouraging. However, greater break through was a meeting we held in Kirimbi Parish, Gitega, in September 2005 with  representatives of the returnees from Tanzania, the Internally Displaced People (IDPS) of Bugendana and those who stayed on the hills of Mwulire coming together for the first time. This coming together enabled them to air their views on the impasse of Burundi situation. The atmosphere was tense and defensive at first; but it slowly changed and people began talking. One thing that came up was admission and acknowledgement of having done something wrong to each other and they were ready to forgive and get reconciled in order to start a fresh in Christ. The following day was a Sunday and we had an open air Eucharistic Celebrations at Mwulire in the hills where they had lived together before as good neighbours. Archbishop Simon Ntamwana of Gitega was the main celebrant. During the service a mixed Hutu and Tutsi couple who had been forced to separate because of hostility based on ethnicity brought their infant child to be baptized which was a highly symbolic gesture of Christian reconciliation.[8] That day was one of my best in my work as a pastor working among and for refugees and IDPS. There was an exchange of messages and jubilation. Sychologists tell us that human beings have two instinctive responses to external threats: fight or flight. If you close off the possibility of “flight”, then you “fight”. Both reactions have been ever present in GLR. Pope John Paul II wrote to the High Commission of the United Nations for Refugees (UNHCR) 25th June 1982 that “The problem of refugees is a shameful wound of our time”. “And in order to save one’s neighbour, experience has taught us, neither material help nor political change or prayer is sufficient by itself. What is important is that persons rise to a new life. To do this, they themselves must confront and solve the real problems of their common life: material, educational or political – starting with a more lucid vision of the reality as God sees it and with more authentic love which is a spiritual ‘weapon’ (commentary on Ex 3). Christian reconciliation is a radical transformation of the inner self. Reconciliation is also an inner peace-making and purification from the culture of nihilism. This was my experience of carrying a banner of love across the border to Mwulire memorable incident. In this respect Pope John Paul II put it thus “Lasting peace, however, is not just a matter of structures and mechanisms. It rests, above all, on the adoption of style of human coexistence marked by mutual acceptance and a capacity to forgive from the heart … asking and granting forgiveness is something profoundly worthy of man; sometimes it is the only way out of situations marked by age-old and violent hatred”[9]
  2. We need to approach our pastoral care for refugees and migrants drawing from the experience of the Israelites, descendants of Abraham who was ‘a wondering Aramean’ (Dt 26:5), from whom they had formed a conviction that they were uniquely chosen people of God among all others. Reflecting on their experiences in exile and journeying for forty years in the desert they came to draw up a code of law that took into consideration the well being of widows, orphans and aliens basing on the fact that they too were once aliens in a foreign land. Today’s situation in Africa calls for special consideration on the plight of migrants and refugees. This very thought as to how we could do it takes me to the reflection made by Martin Luther King Jr on the lessons that can be drawn from the parable of  Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) who discovered the face of God in the neighbour. It involves taking a risk for the sake of the other person. The Good Samaritan had to stop and stooped down to save the life of the victim in a dangerous place. Martin Luther King says, “Love is not satisfied with comforting those who suffer … we must be good Samaritans to those who have fallen along the way, just to start with. Then it is necessary to realize that the road to Jericho must be made in such a way that men and women are not constantly being beaten and robbed while they are traveling along the paths of life”

Concerted Efforts of the Stakeholder.

  1. The Joint Commission for Refugees had taken this factor of ethical responsibility expressed in parable of the Good Samaritan into consideration. It is a “way of solidarity that demand on the part of every one the overcoming of selfishness and fear of the other; it demands a long range action of civic education which by itself can contribute to the elimination of some of the causes of the tragic exodus of refugees.”[10] It advocates on behalf of the refugees with respect to their human rights. In 2004, for example, there was a seminar on Refugee Law Act 1998 of Tanzania which was held in Kigoma involving key stakeholders and key players serving refugees in camps. Government officials – Regional Administrative officer, officials from Home affairs department including police and immigration officers as well as NGOs like UNHCR etc. The Refugee Act of 1998 of Tanzania[11] is in a nutshell, prohibitive in that it is silent on the rights of refugees apart from the protection of his/her life. We had to exchange on this. Also the National Refugee Policy of 2003 is more specific; that Tanzania is committed to treat refugees in a humane way.[12] On International level, there had been some other efforts to voice our concerns of the refugees and refugee situations in the region on the occasion of the UN/AU International Conference on Peace, Security and Development in the Great Lakes Region which was held in Dar es Salaam, Nov 2004. A paper was circulated by the Tanzania Episcopal Conference’s Justice and Peace Commission entitled ‘Peace and Security, The Way forward in the Great Lakes Region.’ In this paper, the call by Pope Paul VI, in Octogesima Adveniens was revisited: “Relationships based on force have never in fact established justice in a true and lasting manner … the use of force, moreover, leads to setting in motion of opposing forces, and from this springs a climate of struggle which opens the way to situations of extreme violence and abuses”.[13] This is as fresh today as it was said yesterday. In Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo people live in a culture of war and not of peace! Returnees are not so well integrated; instead others form regroupings based on their former country of asylum; i.e. Rwandese from Tanzania from Uganda and Congo. These are the new label they carry along in their interactions. This is another area that calls for re-evangelization and inculturation that has to be upheld by the local church in a given country.  

The International Humanitarian Community Role And The New Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAS)[14]

  1. New forms of economic agreements are being negotiated and forged between African countries and Europe, America, Japan and China while already multinational companies are on the ground investing in various economic sectors in Africa. Recently, Africa – church leaders issued a statement on Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAS) here in Nairobi on the implication on peoples’ socio-economic interests and livelihoods: “As stewards and shepherds of the East African Christian Congregation which accounts for many of the East African population, we reiterate that EPAS processes and outcomes should facilitate sustainable human development regional integration and economic growth in the East African sub-region.  All the countries are out to establish free trade zones in Africa. But more scaring is proliferation of unregulated small arms trade. Irene Kahn, Secretary General of Amnesty International observed that “the proliferation of unregulated guns not only jeopardizes peoples’ fundamental right to life, but also denies millions the right to a decent standard of living, health services and education.” This is a socio – economic and political factor that has kept Africa as a ‘bleeding continent’ that builds up a continuous culture of war from the horn of Africa to Kinshasa and West Africa; South of the Sahara to Cape town. Globalisation of the economy affects adversely poor countries in Africa. Foreign investors in development projects impose just any form of development and technology that are all out for plunder, impoverishment and environmental degradation through mining industries and intensive cultivation. This too if not regulated accounts for migrations and refugee situation in Africa. We need to come together in solidarity to seek ways of guaranteeing the common good as we foster for human development, another word for peace (CSDC 582). In this Third Millenium we need to work tirelessly for a culture of Peace in Africa that has been ridden by a culture of wars and violence, knowing and convinced that we are sons and daughters of God created in his image and likeness with a mandate to make it a home for everybody to enjoy (Gen 1:26ff). We are the temple of living God, and we should not compromise with false gods (2Cor 5:16): War Lords and greedy and Power obsessed politicians. But as “church pastors we have to remember that very often sons and daughters are included in the parties in conflict. Mediating to re-establish peace is an integral part of the sacred mission of the church to ‘gather into one the dispersed children of God’ (Jn 11:52). It is in cases of conflict above all that followers of Christ must live up to their vocation as ‘light of the world’ and ‘salt of the earth’ (Mt 5: 13-14). Every Christian must protect the name of Christ by being peacemaker and builder of harmony and unity.”[15]
  2. Our social life and all social policy should be geared towards elevating the dignity of every human person and the human quality of society as a whole. The natural law guides the conscience of every person and society. We need to learn to live in truth, freedom, justice and love as individuals and as well as members of our society. The state has a role of intervention in the areas where abuse of economic power victimizes easily the consumers. We need to address our Christians who are present in all spheres of economic and social life. They are entrepreneurs, executives, workers, politicians, ministers and deputies … they carry on their shoulders the responsibility to saw the seeds of the kingdom of God in this earth, whatever his/her place in the world.[16] To safeguard this we need to work for archiving integral development and the overall development of human kind in solidarity as stated by Paul VI in Populorum Progressio.
  3. The JCR has resolved to make a follow up of the synergies created by the CPN Bujumbura in the near future.

During that conference we came to the conclusion that in order to strengthen the fragile peace given the on-going conflicts and wars individual countries cannot achieve real peace and enhance reconciliation with significant results. Regional efforts have to be put in place. There is a hope that JCR will be enabled to hold a conference probably mid-next year, 2009 during which issues on Justice, Peace and Reconciliation, a theme of the Special African Synod, “your are the salt and light” (Mt 5: 13,14) will be discussed.

May I conclude with this call or observation: “Today, (third Millenium), there is an escapable duty to make ourselves the neighbour of every man, no matter who he is, and if we meet him to come to his aid in a positive way, whether he is an aged person abandoned by all, a foreign worker despised without reason, a refugee, an intelligent child wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, a starving human being who awaken our conscience by calling to mind the words of Christ: as you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me (Mt 25:41).  If we care for the dignity and well being of a refugee and a migrant then he will not “feel like a flat bicycle tyre in front of us.[17]

 


[1] Richard A. Spinello, the Genius of John Paul II, Sheed and Ward, 2007, 162/Chapter 6.

[2] The Third International Conference of the Catholic Peacebuilding Network (CPN), Bujumbura, Burundi, July 24-28, 2006

[3] Op. cit CPN.

[4] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Instruction: Erga migrantes caritas Christi (The Love of Christ towards Migrants),  Vatican City, 2004, #13.

[5] Delegation of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference of Tanzania headed by H.E. Thadeus Rwa’ichi, President, 18-20 February, 2008.

[6] Reflecting on our society, TEC, 29 September, 2007 published in Kiongozi Catholic News Paper of TEC.

[7] Refugee studies Centre 2002 no. 14.

[8] Joint Commission for Refugees (JCR), A Reflection Paper for the Boston College’s Conference on Ethnical Responsibilities towards Forced migrants as a Framework for Advocacy held in Nairobi 12-15 October, 2006 (draft) Page 11.

[9] John Paul II, Offer forgiveness and receive Peace: Holy Father’s message for World Day Peace, Jan. 1997/TEC, Peace and security, May 2005 p.19

[10] Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Refugees: A Challenge to Solidarity, Vatican City 1992 no. 24

[11] The United Republic of Tanzania, The refugee Act no; 9 of 1998, Government Printer, Dar es salaam, Tanzania 1999.

[12] The United Republic of Tanzania, Ministry of Home affairs, The National refugee Policy, Dar es Salaam, September 2003.

[13] Pope Paul VI, Octogeima Adveniens no. 43 May 1971/Peace and security # 12 The way toward in the Great Lake Region, TEC May 2005 page 11.

[14] The Catholic Information Service for Africa (Nairobi), 5 November 2007.

[15] SECAM Pastoral Letter: Christ our Peace, (Eph. 2:14), October 2001 no. 104.

[16] Mannela Silva, Development in Europe, Second World Congress of the Ecclesial organizations work for Justice and Peace, 40th anniversary of P.P Nov. 2007.

[17] Seminar on Refugee Law, June 2004, Kigoma

 

******* 

Rev. Fr. Stan Augustijns, C.S.Sp.

Durban, South Africa 

“The tragedy of refugees is a ‘wound which specifies and reveals the imbalances and conflicts of the modern world’ (John Paul II, Encyclical letter: Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 30/12/87, No 24.I) in which the Church is present with her love and help…Within the context of her universal missionary mandate, the Church, paying special attention to the signs of the times, perceives with increasing awareness the existence of the phenomenon of millions of displaced persons and refugees. She intends to cooperate so that these people can improve their conditions of life and enjoy protection for their lives and health.” (The Productive Health of Refugees by the Pontifical Council of Migrants and Itinerant People, a note for the Bishop’s Conferences).

Truly, from the beginning on the Church has felt a special affinity with the most marginalized, abandoned and voiceless people and has seen in them most clearly the face of Christ. In our times, in discerning the situation in our world, the Church, our Spiritan Congregation and so many other religious Congregations have identified a special calling to reach out to and to care with compassion and love for refugees, displaced peoples and all those fleeing from suffering and hardship in their countries and areas of origin.

From 15 till 29 April 2007, our Spiritan Congregation held an International Meeting in Durban (South Africa) in order to reflect on its Ministry with Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Displaced Peoples. The message of this gathering can be summarised in its “Statement of Spirituality” which the participants, and the Refugee Pastoral Care would like to follow: Our Spiritan Ministry with Refugees, Displaced peoples and Asylum Seekers can be described as follows: Our firm belief in the God-given dignity of each person leads us to welcome and accompany the displaced. It is based on a holistic understanding of the person that addresses pastoral, material and social needs. The pastoral dimension is centered on the sacramental and spiritual life of those to whom we minister. The material and social dimensions encompass a broad spectrum of activities which are carried out in collaboration with the displaced themselves and in cooperation with the local church and like minded people and agencies. The goal of our ministry is to empower the person and to heighten awareness of the dignity of the displaced as children of God, in their own eyes and in the eyes of others.

We walk in solidarity with the displaced, challenging the unjust acts and structures with which they are confronted. At the same time we call them to undertake the difficult work of forgiveness and reconciliation among themselves and with their brothers and sisters in their community of origin.  We also encourage them to live in harmony with the people in their host community while we challenge their hosts to welcome the stranger in their midst. In this way, together we witness to the kingdom of God growing among us as we work to build a society of true and lasting peace.  In this work the Christian community has an essential role. It is our own hope that through a ministry “of binding the wounds” (Ezekiel 34:16) our presence with the displaced helps them to experience the compassion of Christ himself.

We draw inspiration for our ministry from the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, both overcome with despair because of the death of Jesus. We therefore seek to transform the lives of those to whom we minister by helping them to re-interpret their experiences in the light of their own faith, just as Jesus did for the two disciples. In this way together we experience new life through the restoration of hope.”   

Actually with the loss of families and friends, material goods etc., refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons also have to cope with a loss of faith. Hence the great importance of our specific contribution to the spiritual healing: the opening of their eyes to God who brings healing, reconciliation, peace and love. It can be difficult to introduce this spiritual aspect unless certain basic material needs have been met. Nonetheless, this pastoral dimension which is the Refugee Pastoral Care’s (RPC) target is vital.

It is why the RPC’s target is more and more orientated to the human dignity of refugees and asylum seekers in the sense of healing, not only bodily but especially spiritually through a pastoral of:

  1. Healing Touch of Christ (Healing of memories);
  2. Reconciliation and forgiveness;
  3. Peace building.

In one of our “Refugee Masses” last year our Cardinal Wilfrid Napier exclaimed: ‘You who work with refugees, please tell us, Bishops what we have to do concerning the big Refugee issue. Remind us every time to examine what refugees and asylum seekers are expecting of us, what they want from the local Church.’

The RPC tries to answer this invitation especially by sending to those interested in this ministry our reports and our little leaflet: KWETHU in which we insist more and more on the RPC’s ministry.

As already pointed out: this refugee ministry and pastoral in our RPC is especially orientated to ‘Healing Touch of Christ, Reconciliation and Peace Building workshops and orientated to life’ which includes moral, religious and material assistance according to our objectives:

  1. To provide pastoral care through catechetical teaching, home visits, sacraments, Sunday Masses etc…;
  2. To welcome new arrivals, orientate them to the Department of Home Affairs and to assist them as interpreters during interviews etc…;
  3. To assist them with food, clothing, accommodation, in paying of school fees and assisting them with school uniforms sewed by our sewing project etc…;
  4. To provide, even through workshops, assistance in health care (chronic illness, HIV/Aids, tropical diseases) and burial;
  5. To fight against xenophobia in order to integrate them in the local community and Church;
  6. To promote “Human Rights” through advocacy, justice and peace;
  7. To empower them with skills through workshops, projects, English and IsiZulu literacy, education...;
  8. To work through workshops for healing of memories, forgiveness and reconciliation, and peace building (Healing Touch of Christ);
  9. To participate in a network with other organisations, government departments, Churches… dealing with refugees and asylum-seekers for repatriation, reunification and resettlement;
  10. To prepare them for their return to their country of origin as soon as conditions permit.

 The RPC wishes this methodology to be worked out more and more under the umbrella of the Archdiocese of Durban, the SACBC (Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference) and last but not least our Spiritan Congregation. The RPC is confident that through this methodology it implements the last Durban diocesan synod’s slogan (23-25/09/07): Evangelization through mutual integration! On the other hand we have as well to examine what refugees, asylum seekers and displaced peoples are expecting of us and what the local Church and the SACBC wants us to do.

There are so many people in South Africa who are treated as strangers:

  • Refugees from other countries who are often met with hostility;
  • Migrants from rural areas who face hardship in our cities;
  • Disabled people whose skills are not affirmed and whose needs are not met;
  • People living with HIV/AIDS who are rejected by their families and ostracised by the community.
  • As strangers ourselves we should identify with these people and share their pain.
  • As representatives of Jesus we should reach out to them with compassion and love.

Since 1990 refugees have been coming to seek refuge in South Africa from troubled spots of the African continent and other parts of the world. The unending wars and stalling peace processes mean that we can expect this trend to continue. Unfortunately in South Africa, these refugees and asylum-seekers have on more than many occasions been confused with other groups of migrants and consequently are exposed to many forms of violations of Human Rights.

In 1996 South Africa committed itself to caring for refugees by ratifying three documents concerning the reception and protection of refugees: the Geneva Convention of 1951, the Protocol of 1967, and the Organisation of African Unity Convention of 1969. These documents bind this country to support genuine refugees from wars, persecutions and human rights violations. As signatories, its responsibility is to fulfil these international legal obligations.

In the spirit of Ubuntu or Botho, South Africa should be giving support to these people who have been traumatised in their countries, on their journey down here and continue to be traumatised by the treatment they are receiving in South Africa. South Africans have poured acid on their faces and bodies, they have thrown them out of moving trains; they have harassed them and forced them to move around with their permits just as Blacks had to carry their ‘Dompas’ in the bad old days of Apartheid; they have refused to allow them to use their skills to develop their country and its people and ultimately, with the treatment they give them, they have refused to accept them as human beings. It is important to remember that refugees are, just like every man or woman, human beings. The atrocities committed on these refugees have undoubtedly proved that South Africa is a very xenophobic country. More than just xenophobia there is a racial xenophobia, which has subjugated many Black African foreigners to maltreatment. Sometimes civil servants and the Police have harassed them and consequently rendering xenophobia not only racist but institutionalised as well. This has gone to the extent of some dark skinned South Africans be mistaken for foreigners or ‘makwerekwere’.

A lot of this xenophobia seems be caused by mainly ignorance and unfounded fears that refugees have come in South Africa to take away jobs and educational opportunities. The fact is job losses are a global trend and it is happening all over the world. It is not something unique to South Africa. Globalisation has had a more negative impact on developing countries and South Africa is no exception. Refugees cannot be blamed for the high unemployment rate or for contributing to the high unemployment rate. In fact, very few refugees are given employment, and most struggle to get an education. Those who do succeed do so by creating their own jobs and often end up employing South Africans. In this way they contribute to the economy of South Africa.

The attitude that most South Africans have toward refugees and the treatment that many refugees have received, is as though South Africans have forgotten or are not aware that many of their political leaders, artists and prominent people were once refugees in many African countries, including those from which refugees are coming. South Africans in exile or when they were refugees were supported and allowed to further their studies. Many in the host countries supported this political cause and struggle against Apartheid. Today it is the same support that South Africa should be given to them. They should especially be given education and training so that when they ultimately return to their different countries, they will be able to contribute in the development of their own countries. This would be an investment that South Africa would have made for the renaissance of this African continent.

The Refugee Pastoral Care (RPC) arose in response to the increasing number of the needy Refugees in the Archdiocese and especially in the Durban city. Durban, situated on the Indian Ocean on the coast of South Africa has a fast growing population estimated at three - four million people. The number of Refugees is thought to be more than 10,000 and is still increasing with 25 newcomers each week. The Refugees are in Durban for a variety of reasons including violence and wars in some African countries as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, extreme poverty as in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and the need for a peaceful country. The majority of these Refugees are Catholics but not ‘practising’ their faith and many are French and Swahili speaking. It should be noticed that the refugees in South Africa do not live in camps but in the cities and towns. They do not dare stay in the former townships because of xenophobia. On the other hand the South African Government does not give any assistance except for primary healthcare. Financial assistance to the RPC is only given by Catholic Aid Agencies who expect Catholic Pastoral to these people …

At the end of the year 2002 the RPC registered 1289 asylum seekers and refugees asking assistance, 1048 in 2003, 1119 in 2004 and, 857 in 2005, 653 in 2006 and 1149 in 2007. This gives a total of 6115. 75% of them are originally from the Great Lakes area of Africa (including Tanzania), 20% of Zimbabwe and 5% from other countries. It means about 60% are Catholics from origin. During the year 2007 the RPC registered 461 Zimbabweans fleeing poverty in their country. Even a Zimbabwean volunteer works with the RPC, especially to give his compatriots adequate assistance.

 

 

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