|World Refugee Day: our concern for urban refugees|
Johannesburg, South Africa
Welcome. Over the next few weeks, the world will be welcomed to South Africa as it hosts the World Cup Championship. People will experience the wonderful African hospitality. Although the eyes of the world will be focused on South Africa and its great people, not everyone in the country will be visible. South Africa hosts several million foreigners from neighbouring countries. Refugees and other forcibly displaced people come to the country seeking refuge and protection.
So-called survival migrants from Zimbabwe have come here to eke out a living and to send some South Africa Rand back home. Others came here to work decades ago; but they are no longer welcome. This growing fear of foreigners has also made them afraid and invisible. The South Africa of its football fans is not the same for the invisible refugees and asylum seekers.
Millions of refugees and asylum seekers live this invisible and insecure existence in many cities around the world. In general they are referred to as ‘urban refugees’. Half of those described as “of concern” to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) now live now in urban centres. Today, on 20 June, the commemoration of World Refugee Day is focusing on the life and protection of urban refugees.
JRS works in South Africa with urban refugees in Johannesburg and Pretoria. JRS was on their side during the xenophobic outbreak of violence which led to the death of 73 foreigners two years ago. JRS works in many other countries of the world with urban refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented and very vulnerable forcibly displaced persons. The launch of the new JRS website is accompanied by the launch of a JRS campaign to promote the protection of and assistance to urban refugees. Examples of testimonies and projects are presented here to highlight the fate of refugees in urban centres. JRS accompanies them and reaches out to them in their hidden homes through family visits, the provision of emergency food, education and in particular training people in skills to make their own living.
The new website begins by presenting the situation of urban refugees and offers a presentation of JRS International. In the near future, all ten JRS regions will be presented and new campaigns on other crucial issues will be launched as part of JRS advocacy on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. At the centre of these campaigns are the refugees and their fate in a world which is becoming ever more hostile to foreigners and denies protection to those in need. May the welcome to all foreigners in South Africa for the World Cup Championship be extended to the refugees and survival migrants so that they can join in this feast of human fraternity.
Peter Balleis SJ