Fleeing poverty, war, refugees find succor from the Church in South Africa

LIFE AS A REFUGEE IS NOT EASY. Leaving everything behind and beginning a new life in a different country with different laws, education, languages, and cultural expectations requires a period of adjustment. Racism and discrimination, ongoing mental health issues due to trauma, including survivor guilt, and lack of legal documents are only some of the problems confronting refugees in South Africa.

South Africa hosts approximately 275,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, but the true number of undocumented migrants in the country is no doubt drastically higher. Of these refugees, 84 percent come from sub-Saharan Africa. They come mostly from Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. The main reasons for fleeing to South Africa are to escape poverty, political violence, and war.

This is why the project “Refugee Pastoral Care,”carried out by the Archdiocese of Durban and supported byAid to the Church in Need (ACN)since 2013, is vital for the refugees in Durban. The project’s aim is to provide pastoral and social services to refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants with a view to restoring their lost dignity, faith and hope, by providing them with shelter, involving them in healing workshops, social cohesion programs and also to ensure that justice prevails in all matters affecting them, through lobbying and advocacy.

Sadly, refugees are often victims of violence by people in host countries who blame them for crime and unemployment, seeing them as unfair competitors in the struggle for jobs, houses and other resources.

Refugee children in the Archdiocese of Durban, South Africa

In May 2008, 62 people died in an outbreak of anti-immigrant violence. The dead included South Africans who had been erroneously identified as foreigners or who were simply caught up in the maelstrom of violence. The Catholic Archdiocese of Durban cared for 580 victims of the 2008 of the riots as well as for 190 victims of violence in 2015. During these periods, the “Refugee Pastoral Care” provided all basic necessities for these people.

That project also involves other important programs such as paying school fees for refugee children , provision of food and shelter to the refugee newcomers, teaching English to those who come from the francophone regions for integration purposes, and teaching IsiZulu, the local language, among many other services.

All these programs play a very important role in brightening refugees’ future. Learning languages serves as an integration tool. With languages people can converse with the locals and that bridges the social cohesion gap. Thus, they can tell their story as to why they left their countries, which may change the perceptions of the hosts. English plays an important part in the working world, as most business is conducted in English and this program prepares them for this challenge.

“I want to thank “Refugee Pastoral Care” for the contribution of participating in my education fees. I really appreciate it because my mom was not able to do so. I am in Grade 8. Thank you so much. All I could say are words of gratitude because I have nothing to give you in return. Only words and acts of gratitude,” writes Georgette Ntambwa.

The greatest empowerment tool is education as it greatly transforms the lives of refugee children along with their family’s future. Hupenyu Makusha, the coordinator of the organization, told ACN: “Those children who have received assistance and support have gone to greater heights and are now fending for their families.”

Each registered student receives a school uniform at the beginning of the year.” Refugee Pastoral Care” has a sewing project which produces the uniforms. This is crucial because  they are mandatory in South Africa in all public schools and in the vast majority of private schools. Most importantly, uniforms play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between the rich and the poor in the sense that all children look the same when they are in school.

Thanks to ACN´s collaboration, along with other organizations, the Catholic Archdiocese of Durban continues to run this program that makes a major difference in refugee families’ lives and in their children’s future. “Your collaboration in this project has over the years transformed the lives of many refugee families. Lives have been touched and evangelization was done in a manner that breathes life into loneliness. It is with your help that we have managed to continue this important project, especially in the year 2021,” says Makhusha.

—Christina Moreno