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Create Migrant, Refugee Offices in Parishes, South African Catholic Archbishop Proposes

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

The plight of refugees and migrants as far as documentation is concerned can be addressed by the creation of an office that specifically deals with this vulnerable group in each Catholic Parish, a Catholic Archbishop in South Africa has proposed.

In a Wednesday, November 24 interview with Radio Veritas shared with ACI Africa, Archbishop Buti Joseph Tlhagale faulted government officials and politicians who he said sideline refugees for being undocumented.

 “I wish that our groups should have, in every parish, a place and office where migrants will be able to go and apply to be registered and recognized in the country so that people stop accusing them of being undocumented,” Archbishop Tlhagale said in the interview.

The Local Ordinary of South Africa’s Johannesburg Archdiocese added, “My response to political leaders who say migrants are undocumented: let’s say yes they are; they came here without documents, otherwise you cannot be a refugee if you have your passport.”

Archbishop Tlhagale further said that the refugees and migrants should be considered as human beings, adding that people who are tagged as refugees do not have documents and so it is the responsibility of outreach groups for migrants and refugees to ensure that they get the documents as quickly as possible.

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“That for me will be the only way of responding strongly to people who criticize migrants without documents,” 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.

In his considered view, the first thing to be done is to consider creating communities at parish level through an ecumenical outreach so as to complement the work done by other organizations that deal with issues of refugees and migrants.

“In the work we do, we should complement what other churches or non-governmental organizations are doing so that together we become the buffer; we become the support group that will protect the refugees and migrants,” the South African Archbishop said.

Addressing the issue of unemployment among refugees and migrants, the Catholic Archbishop said that the vulnerable group find it difficult to secure a job.

Unable to find jobs, refugees have resorted to creating jobs for themselves in their host countries, the 73-year-old Archbishop says, and adds, “They run bazaar shops and do all sorts of different business undertakings in order to maintain their families.”

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He urged members of the host communities not to feel intimidated by the struggles of the refugees and migrants in an effort to fend for themselves and their respective families because they are doing what everyone including the locals themselves are doing.

“If local people are … creating jobs for themselves and not expecting business or government to give them jobs, then they should not complain about why foreign nationals are working because their struggle is not different from that of refugees,” he said.

Addressing Christian faithful, Archbishop Tlhagale said, “To be the disciples of Christ, we need to think about mercy, generosity and indeed love and therefore should motivate those we live with to have the same passion for the ones who are in need.”

He added, “Looking at the entire world, migrants and refugees from all sorts of countries are a reality. These people live in the open during winter and they need to be attended to because they are human beings.”

Archbishop Tlhagale added in reference to refugees and migrants, “They cannot be left to hunt for food like animals, sleep in the open like animals, especially by those of us who claim to be Christians.”

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Earlier in the week, Archbishop Tlhagale said that there is need for the refugees and migrants to be considered as a “new missionary territory” because of the difficulties they face in their attempt to move across borders.

Members of the group, Archbishop Tlhagale said in his Tuesday, November 23 homily, “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.”

“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 in his homily at the commencement of a two-day workshop that was organized to deliberate on the pastoral care of migrants and refugees in South Africa.