Participants in the conference highlighted exclusion as one of the major challenges that refugees and migrants face in their host countries. When excluded, these vulnerable people do not access education, healthcare and jobs in countries where they go seeking refuge.
South Africa, for instance, where Jesuit Fr. Tim Smith ministers, has been notorious for xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals.
Providing an insight into the situation in South Africa, Fr Smith, the Regional Director of the Southern Africa region where Jesuits operate blamed the attacks on the country’s plunging economy, lack of charismatic leaders to encourage integration of foreign nationals as well as jealousy by locals when people from other countries seem to lead successful lives.
According to the Jesuit priest, South Africa was an attractive country around 1994 and had one of the best economies in Africa, factors that attracted people from Zimbabwe and Nigeria and other countries who were welcomed by Nelson Mandela and other charismatic leaders.
In 1998, the country passed a refugee Act that allowed asylum seekers to live and work in the country.
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“It was a period of excitement. The economy was doing so well and other nationals were quickly welcome to contribute to the growing economy,” Fr Smith recalled in an interview with ACI Africa, adding that the situation has gradually changed, forcing locals to turn on people from other countries.
“There is a growing perception that people from other countries have to come to take the jobs from locals. But this is not true. The people we have here are hardworking Somalis who have set up shops in the cities, people from Zimbabwe who have set up restaurants from their own sweat and Nigerians who are also creatively engaged in their own businesses. On the other hand, South Africans have been passive individuals, always waiting for an incident that can trigger violence,” he said.
The Jesuit priest added, “In the end, it isn’t just the foreign nationals they are killing. In a recent attack, 10 people out of the 12 that died were South Africans.”
Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) initiatives in the southern parts of Africa target vulnerable refugees and migrants in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Angola. Most immigrants in South Africa came from DRC, Burundi, Somalia and South Sudan.
The Jesuits work in refugee camps in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Angola and also help refugees that have chosen to stay in cities in South Africa. In camps, they are provided with primary and secondary education while older refugees are taught life skills to help them survive in these countries.
These priests, just like Jesuits in the two other regions of West Africa and East Africa, also provide psychosocial and healthcare services in refugee camps and in cities.
Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.