We are all migrants

The Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JESAM) recently held a meeting in Johannesburg which focused on migration and the response of the Society of Jesus on the African continent. There are some 232 million migrants worldwide, a threefold increase since 1960. An estimated 53 million are in Africa – the population of South Africa!

Migration is no longer a regional or continental concern but a global phenomenon. Pope Francis, in a message to the Colloquium on Migration and Development in Mexico, said: “This challenge demands the attention of the entire international community so that new forms of legal and secure migration may be adopted.”

Many displaced people seek refuge in South Africa for multiple reasons – social, economic, and political. For centuries people have migrated to South Africa – truth be told we are all migrants. Yet, in 2008, South Africa made headlines as violent xenophobic attacks spread throughout the country and some researchers suggest that xenophobia is always hovering just below the surface in South Africa today.

At the meeting a number of challenges were identified. The Jesuits recognised that many migrants face barriers preventing holistic survival in their host communities. These include but are not limited to: restrictive migratory policies (SA has restrictive policies), detention, stigmatisation by media and societies, control by smuggling and trafficking networks and exploitation of migrant workers. Furthermore, violence and human rights abuses are pervasive throughout the migrant experience.

All people have a God-given right to live, work and realise their full human potential. When this is not possible in their current domicile they have the right to look for better living conditions, which may mean migrating internally or crossing international borders (ironically many South Africans have done this for years in places like the UK and Britain). The Jesuits recognised the importance of addressing the structural root causes, such as poverty resulting from unfair trade policies that cause migration.

The participants at the meeting committed Jesuit apostolates and collaborators to:

  • Reflecting on priority issues through sharing our direct accompaniment experience and research so that we can confront unjust structures, poor applications of law, lack of government response and the criminalisation of immigrants;
  • Raise consciousness on the plight of many displaced people and in so doing combat what Pope Francis has termed the “globalisation of indifference” by replacing fear with a commitment to building a more just and fraternal world;
  • Work with media so that accurate information about migrants is disseminated therefore combating stigmatisation;
  • Advocate for more just and humane migration policies and models of development;
  • Strengthen our own network so that we can respond more collaboratively and effectively to this global issue; and
  • Cooperate with other institutions and organisations with whom we share a common mission.

During this time of Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the incarnation of Christ, we remember that Jesus himself was displaced by socio-political conditions to North Africa (Matthew 2:13-23). As God’s people, living in a country with many migrants and displaced people, we recognise that in the face of migrants we see the face of Jesus himself. As followers of Jesus we are invited to hope in and work for a more inclusive world in which all God’s children are able to live in freedom, justice, and peace. After all, we are all migrants, en route to God’s kingdom, our true domicile.

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ
B.A. (UNISA) B.D. (Urbaniana) M.Th. (UKZN)

Fr Russell Pollitt SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Institute and is interested in the impact that communications technology has on society and spirituality. He regularly comments on South African Politics and various issues in the Catholic Church.

r.pollitt@jesuitinstitute.org.za @rpollittsj
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