Religious Leaders in South Africa Urged to Work with State Agencies to End “statelessness”

Archbishop Buti Joseph Tlhagale, addressing members of the Multi-Religious Council of Leaders during an online roundtable discussion. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Religious leaders in South Africa need to “create personal relationships” with the country’s Department of Home Affairs that handles immigration issues to address the plight of migrants and refugees, a Catholic Archbishop in the country has said.

Archbishop Buti Joseph Tlhagale who was addressing members of the Multi-Religious Council of Leaders during an online roundtable discussion said creating “good relationships” with the South African department would facilitate the registration of migrants and refugees.

“It is important to create good relationships with the Department of Internal Affairs or Home Affairs, with the departments that deal directly with the legal status of migrants and refugees”, Archbishop Tlhagale said during the Monday, May 9 session.

The member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) added, “Once you create personal relationships with the officials that deal with statelessness, they are able to consider you as somebody who provides them with honest information regarding the applicants, refugees and migrants.”

The Catholic Archbishop who previously served as Liaison for Migrants and Refugees of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) underscored the credibility of faith-based leaders saying, “If religious leaders and NGOs that work with migrants and refugees assisted in providing genuine information, it facilitates the registration of migrants and refugees.”


“At the practical level, we could assist the many migrants and refugees in different countries by making applications for them online for registration so that they are people who are documented and do not remain people who are undocumented,” the Catholic Church leader who has been vocal about the difficult lives of refugees and migrants said.

Statistics from the refugee agency indicate that by mid-2020, there were over 80 million forcibly displaced people in the world.

In his address to members of the Multi-Religious Council of Leaders on Monday, May 9, Archbishop Tlhagale suggested that women be given the right “to confer nationality on their children”. 

He said, “It would be nice if we had a statement of campaign encouraging all governments to promote, allow if you wish, women to have the ability to confer nationality on their children. So that that becomes part of the overall international campaign and following from the examples that we have been given.”

Established on 14 September 2020, the Multi-Religious Council of Leaders is an initiative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in partnership with Religions for Peace, a global, multi-religious movement representing over 90 of the world’s faith institutions and traditions.

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In their 14 September 2020 report announcing the establishment of the Multi-Religious Council of Leaders, UNHCR officials said, “Members will have a demonstrated record of serving as strong advocates for conflict prevention, reconciliation and peacebuilding in challenging humanitarian as well as forced displacement contexts.” 

The report further indicates that the council’s members who are expected to serve for a three-year term leading up to the 2023 Global Refugee Forum “will have experience in building a culture of peace that protects the most vulnerable, especially those at risk of gender-based violence.” 

Since its establishment, the 20 council members jointly identified by the leadership of both UNHCR and Religions for Peace have held online meetings to look at possible ways to address the root causes of conflict and displacement, and statelessness.

During the May 9 online roundtable discussion, Archbishop Tlhagale who supports the UNHCR #IBelong Campaign also spoke about the challenges migrants and refugees face in South Africa.

“In South Africa there is an organization called Dudula, which means pushing things around. That organization is increasingly assuming the role of police by asking people in public for their national identification documents,” the Metropolitan Archbishop of Johannesburg said.


He added, “No ordinary citizen has a right to ask for the ID documents of other citizens. They do it here in South Africa and say they are working with the police.”

“In order to save migrants and refugees from such embarrassment and ill treatment, churches and religious communities can actually help apply for registration online to the government in the long run,” Archbishop Tlhagale further said.

He continued, “What is important is for people to have documents, and that document will help overcome the issue of statelessness, and lack of identity anywhere in the world.”

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.