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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 111, December 2009



H.Em. Cardinal John NJUe

Archbishop of Nairobi - Kenya


The challenge confronting us in today’s migrations is not an easy one because many different spheres are involved: economics, sociology, politics, health, culture and security. All Christians must respond to this challenge; it is not just a matter of good will or the personal charisma of a few. Factors other than income that help predict differences in levels of urbanization and internal migration include: Income structure, education, rural-urban wage differentials, ethnic tensions and civil disturbances.

The phenomenon of urbanization and internal migration is often determined by a free decision of the migrants themselves, taken fairly frequently not only for economic reasons but also for cultural, technical or scientific motives. As such it is for the most part a clear indication of social, economic and demographic imbalance on a regional or world-wide level, which drives people to emigrate. The roots of the phenomenon can also be traced back to exaggerated nationalism and, in Kenya just like many countries, even to hatred and systematic or violent exclusion of ethnic or religious minorities from society. This can be seen in civil, political, ethnic and even religious conflicts raging in all continents. Such tensions swell the growing flood of refugees, who often mingle with other migrants. The impact can be felt in host societies, in which ethnic groups and people with different languages and cultures are brought together with the risk of reciprocal opposition and conflict.

The relationship between urbanization and traditionally accepted migration factors suggests that in Kenya and Africa as a whole, social scientists are overlooking part of the urbanization story. The fact that the informal sector appears to provide a significant source of income for urban migrants, coupled with the overlap between rural and urban activities, may shed light on the nature of urbanization and migration in Africa.

In his “State of the Art” on migration studies, Bilsborrow (1998, p. 23)[1] observed that “the advantages of urban areas are now recognised by most scholars, but not yet by policy makers in developing countries”. There is a broad agreement among scholars that urbanisation can play a positive role in socio-economic development and that attempts to slow urbanisation are generally not desirable. Migration is generally a positive move for the migrant, because people migrate only if the expected economic benefits exceed the economic costs. This is inline with the current economic thinking that labour should be able to move from low-wage to high-wage areas until wage differential equal migration costs. Research on migration has added more components to this basic hypothesis:

Information about the destination and contacts with sources of information about opportunities in the place(s) of destination are important elements of the migration decision. Potential migrants lack full labour market information and therefore, base their decision on perceived rather than actual benefits and costs.

  1. Place utility does not only depend on economic conditions, but also on environmental and social conditions such as the availability of good quality education, greater freedom and opportunity for social mobility.
  2. Family ties are particularly strong in rural areas and an individual is unlikely to decide to migrate without involving the family in the decision. Many migrants move as part of a family strategy for substance and improvement rather than as an individual endeavour.
  3. Rather than to maximise the household income, a migrant may move to minimise economic risks associated with agriculture and to benefit from comparative social and economic advantages of different locations.

Overall migrants tend to benefit economically from their move to urban areas. In addition, internal migration has positive social and societal impacts like education and access to health care.

Policy makers see high costs of migration in places of destination. Few cities and towns have sufficient housing, infrastructure and services to absorb the inflow of migrants. The inevitably end up in the informal housing sector where living conditions are usually in adequate. Authorities also feel that the urban economy cannot absorb the additional labour that would subsequently turn to the urban informal sector for employment. They argue that productivity in the urban informal sector is low, working conditions are poor and the sectors evade taxes and regulations, resulting in financial losses and environmental degradation. Some also feel that migrants are the causes of all sorts of social problems.

Policy makers also see high costs of migration in places of origin. They loose valuable human resources, such as agricultural labour and entrepreneurs, as well as important family members, and there by slow down rural development. Policy makers decry the loss of the traditional rural way of life as people move to urban areas and adopt an urban culture and lifestyle. They argue that rural to urban migration has a negative effect on the urban environment. They tend to see farmers not only as protectors of the traditional way of life but also of the natural environment, because of their indigenous knowledge.

Policy makers feel that migrants and their families make decisions based on inadequate and usually too optimistic information about the places of destination. They argue that migrants in fact move from one kind of poverty to another without making any net gains and that they would not have moved if they had known the real situation in urban areas.  

The Case of Kenya

Many people associate conflict and displacement with events that took place during Kenya’s transition to multiparty politics in the 1990s but it could also be linked to the effects of land alienation during the colonial times. What is important to note is that the problems have not been resolved, as clashes along ethnic lines, largely as a result of political infighting over resources and instigation by local politicians seeking to secure their positions, continues to cause displacement.

Kenya hosts over 400,000 thousand refugees from the Horn of Africa, South Sudan and the Great Lakes Region. In March 2009, the government of Kenya closed the Kenya Somali border even though the UNHCR did report that about 12,000 Somalis enter Kenya illegally every month. OXFAM GB on its part reported that the Dadaab refugee camp, mainly for Somali nationals was over crowded making it vulnerable to widespread disease outbreak. Kenyans themselves add to the migration statistics by holding about 200,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in transit camps and/or camps no longer provided for the by government.

The Love of Christ Towards Migrants – major themes

The document was in part informed by the:

  1. Need for the Church to embrace an ecumenical vision as many migrants are not in full communion with the Catholic Church
  2. Need for inter – religious dialogue in view of increasing numbers of migrants belonging to other religions, with emphasis on the Muslims
  3. Need to promote pastoral action that is faithful to tradition and open to new developments.

In summation, the document is a call for a culture of solidarity to facilitate a real communion of persons.

What progresses have been realised since Erga migrantes caritas Christi?

Five years since the Erga migrantes caritas Christi, some progress has been realised:

On its part the government of Kenya enacted the Refugee Act of 2002, which addressed issues of the dignity of the human person and fundamental human rights. These legal provisions have provided enabling ground for agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Jesuit Refugee Services, CARITAS and Catholic Relief services to better program their service provision activities to migrant populations.

The ministry of special programmes holds the internally displaced persons fort. At the height of post election violence, Archbishop Emeritus Ndingi Mwana Nzeki, renowned for his commitment to social justice concerns was appointed to serve as the Chair of the special commission set to address the plight of internally displaced persons.

The Church has remained true to the call for Welcome and Solidarity as expounded in articles 31 to 43[2]. Besides continued service as a safe haven for refugees and displaced persons, through the CARITAS Network, psychosocial support and pastoral care has been provided for thousands of needy migrants. The Archdiocese of Nairobi has facilitated for migrant populations to organise and celebrate liturgies for refugees from the Great Lakes Region in Sacred Heart Dagoretti Parish and St. Paul’s university chapel. At Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Sudanese community has been able to organise the same. The Anglican Church through the All Saints Cathedral in down town Nairobi, has offered similar services for urban refugee populations. In refugee camps, missionary societies have risen to the occasion to provide necessary support. The Salessians of Don Bosco in Kakuma Camp are a true example of fidelity to articles 80 to 85[3].

Under the auspices of the Kenyan Bishops’ Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Seafarers , the first congress of Episcopal Conferences in Africa was held in Nairobi, Kenya from June 2nd – June 5th 2008 on the theme: Towards a better pastoral care for Migrants and Refugees in Africa at the Dawn of the Third Millennium. The forum zeroed in on the need to develop two complimentary approaches to the theme:

  1. The development of the pastoral care on human mobility at the parish level, and the basic ecclesial communities level that offers assistance and service to those most vulnerable, and
  2. The pro-active approach challenging the national and international policies through intensified collaboration and strategy including enhanced relations between the African Episcopal conferences and the Councils and Federations of Episcopal conferences, such as the Council of the European Episcopal Conferences ( CCEE), and the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC).

What does the future hold?

The challenge on pastoral care is for:

  1. Local churches to beef up their pastoral structures for handling the phenomenon of migration to include trauma, human trafficking and sexual exploitation
  2. Enhanced inter religious and inter faith dialogue that aims for greater coordination and sensitivity when explaining the various theological subjects that are relevant to the said phenomenon
  3. Development and implementation of an advocacy strategy that seeks to share and organise the critical factors, characteristics and needs within migration and various responsive church structures; and drums up an awareness of conviction to bring to end human trafficking and other forms of new slavery.

The challenge still holds true:  

“The peculiarities of migrants is an appeal for us to live again the fraternity of Pentecost, when differences are harmonised by the Spirit and charity becomes authentic in accepting one another”[4].


[1] Bilsborrow, Richard E. (1998). “The State of the art and overview of the chapters”, in, Richard E. Bilsborrow (ed.), Proceedings of the symposium on the Internal Migration and Urbanisation in Developing Countries, 22-24 January 1996, New York, (Massachusetts, United Nations Population Fund and Kluwer Academic Publishers), pp.1-56. 

[2] Of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People: Erga migrantes caritas Christi, Vatican City 2004.

[3] That expounds on the role of Religious presbyters, brothers and sisters working among migrants.

[4] Article 18, Pontifical Council for The Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People: The Love of Christ towards Migrants, Vatican City 2004.