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 IMBISA REFUGEE SERVICE
Sr. Stella TAKAZA, SJI
Imbisa Refugee Service Regional Coordinator
Your Excellencies, members of the clergy, ladies and gentlemen, today I am very happy to have been invited to be part of these round table discussions to share experiences on the pastoral care of refugees in the Southern Africa region. My name is Sr. Stella Takaza SJI and I have been working for IMBISA for 9 years now. For all these years I have been working for IMBISA, it has been my privilege to live out my faith commitment in the provision of pastoral care to the downtrodden people of God pastoral care.
Imbisa Refugee Service Mandates
1. Co-ordinating and facilitating pastoral care.
2. Addressing other non material needs such as development programmes.
3. Respond in emergency situations.
4. Defence of human rights and advocacy.
5. Organize Regional Meetings.
6. Bringing to the forefront the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church.
The Actual Situation
For the past decades, many countries in the region have been seriously confronting political, economic, cultural, and social problems. This phenomenon has caused a great deal of suffering and further perpetuated the movement of people into neighbouring countries. Many people on the move who leave their countries cite political reasons such as torture if they belong to an opposition party. Some explain their migration as a rational response to economic hardships and problems such as unemployment, tribal conflicts, and high inflation combined with high cost of living. All these provide the basis for positive rating of the decision to emigrate.
Where Refugees are Coming From?
While IMBISA region is receiving refugees from Angola, Burundi, DRC, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda, there are some countries within the region like Zimbabwe that are producing refugees and this is causing a great deal of suffering. Forcibly displacement is happening in many ways due to political instability that include civil wars and natural disasters such as floods and droughts or man-made disasters. All these have produced massive population movements both within and across borders. The trafficking of human beings is also increasing in the region at all border posts such as Beit Bridge and Botswana Border posts.
On a Practical and Personal Level
In trying to reach out, I have been challenged in many ways. Whenever refugees came to me as a Religious person, they have never asked for money but more involving prayer, counselling, understanding, collaboration and above all the humble acceptance of them from their different cultures, religion, race, colour and status in the African context. Displaced People in Huambo/ Angola cueing for their needs even when there was nothing to give them. What I was able to offer was only listening to their problems and acceptance.
However, they have other hierarchical needs
The IMBISA Refugee Service Pastoral Response
IMBISA Refugee Service has come up with pastoral care programmes that address the spiritual needs of the refugees in the region, that do not exclude them, but welcomes everybody as brothers and sisters.
- Special spiritual programs such as celebrating Eucharist with refugees every month in their own languages and assigning religious congregations to work with refugees in the camp is quite enriching.
- We organize regional meetings to discuss issues affecting the people on the move.
-We lobby and advocate for them to obtain legal documents and access social services.
-We have realized the need to go beyond humanitarian assistance and we provide other services such as reconciliation and healing of memories
-Christian education in the refugee camp for moral and quality education among refugee children
-We provide pastoral care in the camp. In some camps like Tongogara in Zimbabwe, there is a local congregation that resides in the camp doing full time pastoral work and education.
IMBISA Refugee Service has been organizing on going Formation workshops for Church Personnel in the Ministry with Uprooted People and produced a Training Manual which is a useful tool in training pastoral workers working with uprooted people.
There is a Question of Linking Refugees with the host Communities and Countries of Origin
Refugees from Angola in Zambia visited by their Bishops from Angola as a sign of pastoral solidarity. IMBISA Refugee Service organized this visit for the three Bishops from Luanda, Luena and Menongue in Angola. These pastoral visits may need to be encouraged at both regional and continent level and also as a sign of solidarity with the countries that are hosting refugees.
IMBISA Refugee Service organizes workshops on advocacy for Police Officers, UNHCR, NGO, Immigration, Education, Church and Health Officers to Discuss Legal issues in favor of the Refugees. Attends the implementing partners committee
Trained Church personnel making follow-up visits to the uprooted families to assess how they are coping with the new situations. The pastoral care needs of refugees are done in the camps and in communities that host them.
Refugees need to belong to parish associations such as youth groups, women groups, couples and choirs and they need programs such as counselling, spiritual direction, recollection, retreats, seminars and teaching Church doctrine for spiritual enrichment. IMBISA Refugee Service helped Angola to set up a Migration Commission for Pastoral activities in Angola and Sr Marivane was an instrumental figure in making this project a reality.
This follows pastoral visits to Angola after the signing of Peace Agreement in 2002 when it was felt that there was need to engage in pastoral activities to address the needs of the returnees in Angola. "When we were in our country, we belonged to Church Associations and we had sisters visiting us in our homes and we miss this. We also want to join the associations here”.
A} Refugees need to maintain ties with their local communities and personnel of Church of origin to address their spiritual needs.
B} they need Eucharist Celebration and Retreats/renewals in their own culture which brings about peace, healing and reconciliation. We need devoted people to do this work.
Annual Regional Conferences
IMBISA Refugee Service organizes Annual Regional Conferences under different themes that are challenging in the area of pastoral care, advocacy, justice and peace, lobbying, good governance, democracy and many others in a Christian Perspective. This is done on a rotational basis to gain the appreciation of different way of celebrating liturgy in a cultural context. The conference platform gives the opportunity for all stakeholders to come up with critical issues that need the Church’s intervention.
Refugee Service Structures
Following the recommendation No. 31 (d) of the 1998 Consultations, of the Institutional Reference in each Conference, the 12th Annual Regional Conference mandated IMBISA Refugee Service to appeal to the Bishops to set up of Refugee Desks in some of the conferences. With these structures, pastoral care is provided. The department is able to co-ordinate pastoral care as has been mandated. It is also strengthening the already existing refugee structures.
Refugees Involvement in Church Activities
The Pastoral care committees carry out awareness campaigns among the local people in parishes. The responses to these campaigns are fairly positive as some of the parish priests begin developing interest to work with refugees. At some parishes, some refugees become members of the parish council and are involved in different activities of the parish.
The World Refugee day Commemoration
IMBISA Refugee Service celebrates of the commemoration of World Refugee Day at regional level. The Refugee Service gets the appreciation of the presence of the Office of the President and UNHCR in each particular country and what everybody in the ministry with refugees does. The World Refugee Day is also celebrated in each country.
The Pastoral Emergency Response
IMBISA Refugee Service developed pastoral programs to respond in emergency situations such as the Cyclone Eline in 2000/2001 and the severe drought 2005. Some of the people died as a result of the weather conditions due to the Operation Restore Order as people were left homeless. During the year 2008, the floods affected refugees in one of the camps. IMBISA Refugee Service was said to be the first to be on the scene. The Department is therefore involved with pastoral care response to such emergency situations where refugees are forcibly displaced and left homeless eve. During thistime when there is political violence in the region, an attempt to reach out to the affected people is very difficult...
Religious Commitments in Pastoral Care
In some refugee camps and communities, some religious congregations have assigned personnel to reside in the camp. They provide pastoral care the refugees on a full time basis. As a pastoral strategy, spiritual care is provided through individuals, groups, and social centres, homes where refugees are finding refuge or in some countries where there are refugee camps.
The Department is also strengthening the already existing Refugee Desks to take care of the children of God.
The Chief of the village in Dombe/ Chimoio with his people and many other households were displaced by the floods in Mozambique. Pastoral care in this situation is a priority.
This family was hosted in Zimbabwe during the war in Mozambique. In return, they give what they have in appreciation of the services they received during their stay in Zimbabwe. There is a saying which goes, “Small is beautiful.”
Conclusion and Way Forward
1. On going Formation Church Personnel - The Refugee Service Department assists the local Church in mobilising resources and run training sessions at all levels using the IMBISA Refugee Service Training Manual for Church Personnel in the Ministry with uprooted people.
2. Regional Conferences and Workshops - IMBISA Refugee Service continues to assist refugees to organise workshops on reconciliation and healing of memories, human rights respect and democracy, HIV and AIDS care and treatment Behaviour change among the youths.
3. Resource Mobilization - IMBISA Refugee Service to embark on aggressive fundraising and continue organizing regional workshops and Annual Regional Conferences.
4. Better Pastoral Care - Networking with other Churches in the Ministry with uprooted people to lobby and advocate for good governance, peace building, human rights respect, etc.
5. A Pilot Survey on refugee situation in the region is another way of turning ideas into action. ICMC is helping IMBISA to make this project a reality which will come up with useful tools for the future of IMBISA.