, 19 June, 2020 / 10:00 PM
On the occasion of the World Refugee Day (WRD) marked June 20 since 2001, members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Africa and Madagascar are calling on nations hosting refugees “not to exclude” them in their respective “socio-economic” programs amid COVID-19 challenges.
The day recalls the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution.
“We Jesuits and our collaborators in Africa and Madagascar are concerned about their (refugees) wellbeing and implore host countries not to exclude them when responding to the socio-economic needs, especially of the vulnerable during this time,” the Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar have said Friday, June 19 through the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network – Africa (JENA).
They add in reference to COVID-19, “We have seen and witnessed in many places that this invisible and ruthless enemy is a virus that has added more burden on the lives of refugees and many other vulnerable forcibly displaced persons.”
“Confinement measures have left refugees more vulnerable as they cannot go out to hustle for a living as they normally do,” the Director of JENA, Fr. Charles Chilufya told ACI Africa Friday, June 19.
Urban refugees, especially the undocumented ones, “are not getting the needed social protection. They are experiencing a lot of hunger,” the Kenya-based JENA official observes and recounts, “Four weeks ago, we heard of a refugee in Kenya who hanged himself to death because of aggravated hardships.”
Fr. Charles stresses the need for governments to take the various conventions on refugees seriously and act accordingly noting, “This is a matter of human rights; these are human beings with dignity who need protection and support.”
In their June 19 statement shared with ACI Africa, the members of the 486-year-old Society raise “serious concern” about the phobias that they say, “continue to make the life of refugees and other vulnerable migrants difficult and unbearable.”
“Many of them (refugees) have become victims of aporophobia, Afrophobia and xenophobia even to the point of loss of life in some cases,” the Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar say, adding, “We condemn these reactions to the presence of our refugees in host communities.”
Referencing the theme of WRD, “Everyone can make a difference. Every action counts,” the Jesuits call upon all people of goodwill to take it upon themselves “to welcome, protect, promote and integrate refugees in their communities and countries as Pope Francis encourages us to do.”
They also call for the promotion of a genuine culture of hospitality and solidarity saying, “Every one of us can indeed make a difference and surely every action counts.”
The Jesuits note that protracted conflicts, persecutions and violations of human rights that have forced many to leave their homes and countries in search of protection and safety have been caused by the “loud guns that have been reverberating all over the continent of Africa and mostly robbing our young Africans of their youth.”
To mitigate the impact of the “loud guns”, JENA members join and support the African Union in its call to silencing the guns on the African continent, they say in their June 19 WRD message.
“These guns have done enough damage to our continent, our people and retarded development for far too long,” the Jesuits bemoan and caution, “Unless there is stability and peace in Africa, where justice and respect for human rights prevail, we cannot have development and there will certainly be no prosperity.”
The call by Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar for the inclusion of refugees in COVID-19 responses has been echoed by the leadership of the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR that has stated, ahead of WRD, “It is now equally critical to secure refugees’ and displaced persons’ inclusion in the much-needed socio-economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Jesuits journey with refugees through their international organization, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), which facilitates education, food security, livelihood training, and reconciliation.
Pope Francis has addressed the plight of refugees in recent day. In his address during Angelus on Corpus Christi Sunday, June 14, the Holy Father called on the international community to take the plight of the refugees “to heart, identifying pathways and providing means to provide them with the protection they need, a dignified condition and a future of hope.”
“I also pray for the thousands of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons in Libya,” Pope Francis said and added, “The health situation has aggravated the already precarious conditions in which they find themselves, making them more vulnerable to forms of exploitation and violence. There is cruelty.”
As a way forward, the Holy Father has called for a cessation of hostilities in the North African nation of Libya, urging stakeholders in the crisis to “recommence with conviction and resolve the search for a path towards an end to the violence, leading to peace, stability and unity in the country.”
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa