On World Refugee Day, South African Archbishop Calls on Host Nations to Be “welcoming”

Archbishop Buti Joseph Tlhagale, a member of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) - Religions for Peace Multi-Religious Council of Leaders. Credit: IMBISA

On annual World Refugee Day observed on June 20, the Catholic Archbishop of Johannesburg in South Africa has called on host nations to incorporate international laws in their policies about refugees and foster “practices of welcoming” them.

In a Monday, June 20 statement shared with ACI Africa, Archbishop Buti Joseph Tlhagale, a member of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) - Religions for Peace Multi-Religious Council of Leaders, underscored the need for host communities to foster the spirit of “acceptance and inclusivity of refugees” who, he says, have the right to seek jobs in the host nation.

“Does the host country conform the rights to, or has it domesticated international law and practices of welcoming refugees and of providing them with the necessary documents and means of survival?” Archbishop Tlhagale poses in his statement.

He adds, “More importantly, has the domestication of international practices of welcoming and protecting refugees been accompanied by an equally vigorous promotion of the acceptance and inclusivity of refugees by the citizens of communities of the host country?”

The South African Archbishop says that while “refugees have a right to seek employment in the host country,” he regrets the fact that such a right is among those not adhered to. 


He goes on to highlight the plight of refugees and people on the move in South Africa. 

“Refugees are often among foreign truck drivers who are harassed and violently prevented from carrying out their duties. This violates their right to employment,” Archbishop Tlhagale says, and continues, “In South Africa, this equally applies to refugees whose businesses are set alight during service delivery protests across the country.”

The immediate former Liaison Bishop for Migrants and Refugees of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) says the “fierce” scramble for work in the country has forced refugees to “compete strenuously against many job-seekers who have migrated from the countryside to urban areas including migrants from other nations.”

The 74-year-old Archbishop further says that migrants, refugees and people on the move in South Africa “have experienced rejection, harsh treatment and being named ‘foreigners’ with negative connotations.”

“They have been called ‘outsiders’, the ‘unwanted’ even though some of them have been here since the dawn of the South African democracy, 27 years ago,” Archbishop Tlhagale laments, and adds that “forcibly displaced people have been thoroughly victimized and turned into scapegoats for the short-comings of the socio-economic system and political leadership of South Africa.”

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In his June 20 statement for World Refugee Day 2022, the Catholic Archbishop says whenever there are service delivery protests in South Africa, migrants, refugees and people on the move “bear the brunt of the anger of local people. Their stores are often looted and even set alight.” 

“They are accused of selling drugs and are said to be involved in human trafficking. These are extremely harmful generalizations that tarnish the image of the migrants and refugees,” says the member of the UNHCR – Religions for Peace Multi-Religious Council of Leaders.

The member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) encourages the people of God to create platforms for dialogue and to assist people on the move.

“As the Church we should continue to create platforms where there will be mutually respectful dialogue between the host community and the forcibly displaced persons,” Archbishop Tlhagale says.

The Church, he adds, needs to continue “assisting refugees to develop attitudes and skills needed to successfully adapt to the new society, by becoming open-minded towards new and different cultural norms, especially women that might encounter more social and cultural barriers.”


The Local Ordinary of Johannesburg Archdiocese further says that if given a chance, “refugees can become ambassadors of peace, solidarity, and social friendship”.

He calls for the establishment of counseling centers at Diocesan and Parish level to assist refugees in making proper choices, and to address “unrealistic or false expectations and misinformation with accurate and reliable information.”

In his June 20 statement, Archbishop Tlhagale reminds host nations that all human beings have been created in the image of God. 

He says, “Members of the host country, on this Refugees Day, should humbly recall that all human beings have been created in the image of God and that we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.”

“This imposes a biblical and moral obligation on us all to be inclusive in our relationships with each other especially concerning refugees,” the South African Archbishop says.

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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.