The Holy See
back up

 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 109 (Suppl.), April 2009







Bishop Adriano langa, O.F.M.

Bishops’ Commission for Migrants,

Refugees and Displaced Persons

(CEMIRDE), Mozambique



The Mozambican Church’s experience, in the pastoral care for Migrants, began in the late eighties, and has paid attention to three different areas: Refugees, Mozambican Immigrants in the neighboring Countries and Mozambican Deportees, from the said Countries, especially from South Africa. 

I - Refugees

Our “Initiation” in the Pastoral Care for Refugees

1 - The Mozambican Church made her first steps in the Pastoral Care of Human Mobility at the beginning of the eighties, by assisting the Zimbabwean Refugees, during their Emancipation War. After this experience, as Church, we started to follow our own Mozambican brothers, internally displaced people and refugees in the neighboring Countries, during the Civil War in our Country.

During the internal Civil War

2 - Our experience obtained a more consistent form between 1993-95, during the process of welcoming and reinserting the returnees from exile, at the end of the armed conflict which involved Mozambique for 16 years. In this process, the Church played an important role, not only by welcoming and reinserting but also by reconciling, because the Civil War had opened deep wounds in the Mozambican hearts. Actually, the Civil War meant Mozambicans killing other Mozambicans, betrayal among brothers. For this reason, during the postwar, the Church herself planned for a consistent and more efficient intervention. It was also in this period that the CEMIRDE (Bishops’ Commission for Migrants, Refugees and Displaced Persons) was created, as a consequence of the organization al effort that the situation required. 

The situation in the Great Lakes

3 - The tragic events in the Great Lakes had their effects in a concrete way in Mozambique, and this meant a new way for our pastoral care with Migrants. In fact, from the Rwandan Genocide (1994), the Refugees had flown down, running away from the region with political-military convulsions, whose conflict began intensifying and spreading into other Countries: Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the beginning, Mozambique was seen as a country of transition and South Africa as destination. But the law and politics of this last Country towards the entrance of foreigners were very restrictive and access, even illegal, was hard and dangerous, because the South African borders were well protected. As a consequence, Mozambique became the Country of residence, even though the Country with the gold continued to be the preferential destination for the Refugees and every one tried to reach it from Mozambique. This forced the Mozambican Government to transfer the Maputo Refugee Camp (closer to South Africa) to Nampula (2,500km away). In this way, Mozambique, that was a source of Refugees for the neighboring Countries, during the Civil War, became a land for Refugees. This meant a new phase for our pastoral work. A new approach to the problem from the Mozambican Church became necessary: The point was not only assisting the Refugees by giving food, clothes and medicine. In fact, the Refugee also needed housing, school, work, productive activities, a human and social environment, a Christian community, pastoral care, spiritual assistance, etc. In this context, the Church’s work, especially through the CEMIRDE, began to be more than:

a) Welcoming Refugees and helping them in their social insertion, through:

  • translating personal documents such as diplomas, so they can get a job or continue their studies.
  • Looking for jobs for Refugees, where it is possible.
  • Advocacy and legal support
  • Qualification for self-support through associations and micro-credits.
  • Refugees’ involvement in taking decisions which are related to them, especially in the parish communities.
  • Refugees’ insertion in activities and practicing ministries in the Christian communities.

There are many Refugees living outside the Camp. We don’t know where the biggest number is: inside or outside the Camp.

b) Visiting the houses of Refugees, living outside the Camp, particularly in Maputo.

c) Individual listening at the headquarters of the CEMIRDE.

d) Sessions for qualification of the Parishes for welcoming, inserting and accompanying Refugees living in those Parishes.

Refugees’ Current Situation

4 - Lately, the Mozambican Government and the High Commission of United Nations for Refugees decided to lock up the one and only Refugee Camp of Nampula, saying that the situation of the Refugees’ main countries of origin had settled down and so, those who want can return to their Country. But there is opposition, besides that there are Refugees coming from these Countries. We are, therefore, at a moment of disturbance and so it is not so easy to know how many Refugees there are in Mozambique. The Church is concerned because, even though the Refugee Camp will be closed, they will continue in Mozambique. Thus, in which conditions? It is truth that the Camp is not the ideal place, but who lived there had the minimal conditions and little by little was getting inserted in the society and left the Camp. But the closing of it can mean the dispersion of abandoned people.

II - Deportees from South Africa

5 - Mozambique is confronted with the deportation phenomenon, that is, compulsory repatriation of illegal Mozambicans from South Africa. They are imprisoned there and sent to the detention and concentration center (Lindela), from where they are repatriated to Mozambique. Each month they reach a thousand (1,000) or more. There is a coming and going of deported people: on the same day in which they are discharged in the border between the two Countries they violate again the border, most of the time with the connivance of the South African police.

6 - The Reason for this situation?

a) South Africa is a powerful Country in Africa, in all its aspects, including the economic one. Therefore, it is a Country much wanted by the Africans of all the continent and not only that, there they hope to find jobs and better life conditions.

b) On the contrary, Mozambique is an underdeveloped country, which is not able to create jobs nor means of surviving for its citizens, a situation that was aggravated by the long Civil War of 16 years.

c) Mozambique and South Africa have an extensive common land border, hard to watch for the two Countries and, therefore, easy to violate.

 d) There is a long emigration tradition (of more than a century) of Mozambicans going to the South African mines.

e) The South African mining industry is going through a deep crisis and this fact causes massive dismissal of workers and no more intakes. This hinders the entrance of foreigners in South Africa, aggravated by the very restrictive South African immigration laws. 

The Mozambican Church’s Activity

7 - As the problem is understood in terms of “illegality”, the Church finds lots of difficulties in approaching the question. Nonetheless, we have tried to accomplish:

a) Advocacy (dialoguing with the South African authorities, so that they may value human rights in the treatment of detainees and in the repatriation process).

b) Dialogue with the Mozambican authorities for the professional training of the deportees, for their self-employment or how to find a job.

c) Clarification sessions to the youth, showing them the risks of illegal migration.

d) Welcoming and assistance to the deportees, when they arrive in Mozambique, at Ressano Garcia’s border. 

III – Worker migrants

8 - The third front of the human mobility’s pastoral care of the Mozambican Church is to assist and accompany the Mozambican worker migrants, especially in South Africa. With this we do not intend to take over the South African local Church, but we have realized that:

a) Many Mozambicans, at arriving in South Africa, abandon Christian practices or go to other Churches and sects. And when they return to Mozambique, they bring their families to these other Churches and denominations in such a way that, for us, South Africa is nursery of religions.

b) Many Mozambicans establish themselves definitively in South Africa, constituting new families, abandoning those left behind in Mozambique (wives and children), which constitutes a social drama.

9 - For this pastoral assistance, the Church placed in South Africa a permanent catechist, who visits the existing communities in the whole territory, particularly at the mining Companies.

We are making efforts to strengthen this intervention of ours, through an itinerant team that includes a priest and a religious.

This is the Mozambican Church’s experience, and we wish that our work would improve and reach the desired results for the people on the move.