Everyone talks about migration; few understand it. Perhaps because most of us don’t want it, we don’t become emotionally involved when trying to approach this subject. Or, perhaps because we have experience with some migrants or refugees in our countries and we describe migration based on our personal experience. Ask ten people to define and describe migration and you will probably receive ten different answers. There are over fifty descriptions of it in my personal file.
How can we approach this intriguing subject we call “migration”, which is at the centre of human political, social and cultural sphere? The more we are familiar with it, the more it becomes normal and superfluous. In the last two decades, many organizations have been founded to advocate for the rights of the migrants and refugees. A set of steps toward securing better treatment and understanding of refugees and migrants has been made out, many are the times, the values of removing prejudices, clarifying the wrong ideas and to grow in mutual knowledge with the hosted people are underlined. Despite all this progress, we are however experiencing a large heap of opposition, fear and suspicion of the migrants and refugees.
Pope Francis in his massage on the “World day of Migrants and Refugees” in 2014, recognized that “the arrival of migrants, displaced persons, asylum-seekers and refugees gives rise to suspicion and hostility. There is a fear that society will become less secure, that identity and culture will be lost, that competition for jobs will become stiffer and even that criminal activity will increase.” Having recognized our fear of the migrants and refugees, he presents a way that can build community rather than enmity, saying, “ a change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization all typical of a throw away culture towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.” (http://www.news.va/en/news/popes-message-for-word-day-of-migrantsand-refugee.)
It seems to me that the question of the refugees and migrants today in our world is not only delicate and difficult but likewise a sign of the times. If this phenomenon is considered as “sign of times”, we are called to find the new approach to enhance openness, empathy, compassion in welcoming and integrating the migrants and refugees in our countries. So far, the presence of migrants and refugees among the people of the hosting countries is not yet well assimilated and even well tolerated. On our daily news we hear how some politicians want to build the physical barriers, to protect and defend their countries’ boundaries against the migrants and refugees; how the hosting people rise against the refugees and migrants, xenophobic attacks and racial discrimination; how the migrants and refugees become the scapegoat in the economic, social, cultural and political crisis of the hosting countries.
After a year of placing service to the refugees and migrant at one of our centres in South Africa, I have observed that the closeness of our hearts towards our brothers and sisters who knock at our doors is facilitated by the lack of what I can call “Eschatological sense”, the sense of recognize that we are all only Strangers and Sojourners on the earth.
The Eschatological concept emerges from some passages of the New Testament; In this view, all believers in Christ are pilgrims and strangers in this world: “We do not have a stable city here, but we look for the future one” (Heb 13:14, see Heb 11,10-16). Apart from the scriptural passage, a Christian of the first centuries described brilliantly the state of “pilgrim” of the Christian: “Christians inhabit their own country, participate in everything as citizens, and yet they endure as strangers every foreign land is their homeland and every country is a foreign land “(Letter to Diogenite). So, Christians, feeling like pilgrims on earth, they will grow in the consciousness of understanding the sufferings and needs of their brothers and sisters who have been forced by various factors to leave their home countries. The lack of this sense drives us to close and defend our space because we still think the earth is our destination and home forever. Unless we make this step forward of considering the earth as our temporary home, we cannot acquire the sense of true welcoming. I am not saying we are disinterested in the earthly city, but we know we are on our way to that city that God himself has prepared for us and the world we live in, is the common home which God has entrusted to all of us.
We know that the consequences of forced migration can lead to a sense of displacement, an experience of vulnerability and foreignness, and a loss of certain rights and privileges. Above all, the decision to leave one’s homeland and become a migrant or refugee in a strange land surely is not made lightly and the benefits of migration often come at a high cost to individuals and families. That why these people need the people who have an eschatological sense as the driving factor to hospitality, compassion and solidarity.