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Consider Refugees, Migrants “new missionary territory,” South African Archbishop Says

Archbishop Buti Joseph Tlhagale of South Africa's Johannesburg Archdiocese. Credit: SACBC

The Archbishop of South Africa’s Johannesburg Archdiocese has expressed concern about the difficult lives of refugees and migrants, especially their challenging search for settlement, and suggested that the vulnerable group be considered “a new missionary territory”.

In his Tuesday, November 23 homily, Archbishop Buti Joseph Tlhagale made reference to the situation of the Rohingya community, movement in Lebanon and Sudan, the situation in Belarus and that of people in  South America attempting to enter the U.S. and how they suffer when denied permission for entry.

These groups, Archbishop Tlhagale said, “live and sleep in the open because they are denied permission to cross the boundaries… And that is why we are saying migrants and refugees are a new missionary territory these days.”

The South African Archbishop further said that historically, migrants and refugees were taken care of through a collective initiative and their challenges were sorted out by the society.

The Local Ordinary of Johannesburg Archdiocese who doubles as the Liaison Bishop for Migrants and Refugees of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said that there is need for prayer in response to the situation of migrants and refugees.

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“When we celebrate advent, we hope that Christ will find us eager to welcome him. So, we pray that we too should be eager to welcome visitors, to welcome migrants and refugees in our community,” Archbishop Tlhagale said.

He added, “We need to pray to God that He be generous in increasing our love; love that is not selective; love that accepts another human being. Now that’s a tall order, easier said than done.”

The member of Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) urged the people of God to pray against obstacles that block them from receiving those in need whose only wish is to be seen and considered as persons with dignity.

Speaking at the commencement of a two-day workshop that was organized to deliberate on the pastoral care of migrants and refugees, the 73-year-old Archbishop said the community is mandated to be generous and refrain from directing their anger and frustration to the migrants and refugees.

“Our biggest mission will be to have in every parish people dedicated to this new mission of migrants and refugees,” Archbishop Tlhagale said after observing that conflict happens at community level and not at government administrative offices in Pretoria and Cape Town.

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On his part, Fr. Eduardo Gabriel, a researcher and coordinator at Scalabrini Institute for Human Mobility in Africa (SIHMA) Johannesburg, said that people should not wait to be compelled into helping migrants and refugees.

“Sometimes we wait for someone to do something for migrants and refugees instead of us being the ones to do it,” Fr. Gabriel said in his presentation at the workshop.

The Catholic Priest made reference to Pope Francis’ first trip in Lampedusa, Italy where the Holy Father expressed his solidarity with the migrants, and underscored the need to make migrants feel cherished and welcome.

He advised the participants in the workshop to always be open to listening to the migrants and refugees whenever they get a chance to work together.

“To be able to help them with your hands, listen to them first,” Fr. Gabriel said and highlighted the importance of taking initiatives to help migrants and refugees by not just being close to them but by welcoming them and showing solidarity with them.

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In her presentation, the Head of Advocacy and Legal Advisor at the Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town, Sally Gandar, shed light on the legal framework of migration in South Africa and how the concept of migration can be understood and impressed by everyone.

A summary of presentations from different groups in South Africa highlighted, among other challenges, the issue of migrants allegedly exploiting the system by moving from one organization to another, and seeking help for the same thing they have already received from other organizations. 

The challenge of the local crimes linked to some migrants was also highlighted as one of the issues that the migrants and refugee’s department in South Africa faces.

The workshop, which was organized in response to the resolution that was taken in 2019 is expected, on the second day, to deal with mobile data capturing solution for undocumented and stateless children out of school.

The 2019 resolution under the leadership of SACBC had a responsibility of appointing a contact person in Catholic Parishes for migrants and refugees, and a development of a diocesan network, metropolitan network, and national one, with training and formation programs for those who commit themselves to the ministry of migrants and refugees.

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The workshop also seeks to address the issue of planning activities with migrants and refugees at the local level.