Some Ins and Outs of migration
Migration happens. Ever since Abraham was a wandering Aramean called by God to relocate and even before. Reasons have been many some of which are still the same; finding grazing for one’s livestock and security from attack. In biblical times it also included forced migration with people being taken prisoner or into exile as well as preservation of one’s tribal or national identity. Living in a global village has blurred some needs. We no longer count our wealth and security in terms of cattle, goats and sheep but in job security and money in the bank while land remains a value. Tourist travel is a growing industry and young people move around for enjoyment and adventure and may never return home.
According to the UN there are nearly 250 million people on the move worldwide and some 20 million are refugees, forced to flee from home and country for personal or financial security. In South Africa’s population in 2011 of around 52 million 1.7 million were foreigners, amongst them some economic migrants and 70000 asylum seekers applying for refugee status mainly from neighbouring SADC countries. Because of their needs refugees are the element of greatest concern while those with critical skills receive the warmest welcome.
Ethnic and religious elements play a role to a greater or lesser degree but, from the particular perspective of family life, migration for whatever reason, impacts greatly. If the family is the basic unit of society and an element in social cohesion, all aspects of migration need to consider family functioning and structures. This was a conclusion for me at two events I attended recently both concerning the proposed new policy on International Migration. A Home Affairs representative at one and members of a CPLO Round Table outlined some of the contents of the GREEN PAPER ON INTERNATIONAL MIGRATION. There are two extreme schools of thought amongst the people: open the doors wide or keep them shut tight, but somehow the way forward requires that a balance is struck. Home Affairs Minister Gigaba has said, “We must manage international migration in a way which promotes human rights, advances the National Development Plan, takes into consideration our circumstances and resource constraints, and ensures all persons residing in South Africa, citizens and foreign nationals alike are and feel safe.” The CPLO meeting noted some inconsistencies and gaps in the paper making it important for people to engage and contribute their own insights and experiences. The paper can be downloaded from www.gov.za .
What would be some family aspects especially in the case of refugees? The Green Paper does not list migrants according to sex, but some general scenarios are noted. Men come for work, women and children stay behind and money is sent home, possibly only for a time, as new relationships could be formed locally. Women and children flee to South Africa when men and possibly some children and relatives have been killed in their home countries. Children alone come as refugees. The most common applications for visas and for permanent residence are for spouses or relatives and many also for study.
Catholic Social Teaching contains the basic principles of human dignity, the common good and solidarity. Pope Francis, in his Message for the 2016 World Day for Migrants and Refugees reminds us, “At the heart of the Gospel of mercy the encounter and acceptance by others are intertwined with the encounter and acceptance of God himself. Do not let yourselves be robbed of the hope and joy of life born of your experience of God’s mercy, as manifested in the people you meet on your journey! I entrust you to the Virgin Mary, Mother of migrants and refugees, and to Saint Joseph, who experienced the bitterness of emigration to Egypt.” As Mother of Mercy, and patroness of South Africa too let us call on her special care and protection.
Various agencies in the Church offer pastoral care for migrants and refugees. Their needs are great and everyone can become involved at least in the reflection and discussion. In doing so a bigger picture of thousands of foreigners who may not be in need of financial or practical support but of a friendly neighbourly hand reached out to them could also emerge. TR