– The community of faith is obligated to be in partnership with a functional State –
I have chosen to start this piece with a double – edged question: Does anyone know where migrants legal or illegal or refugees first go when they enter a country and land? Perhaps when we can attempt answering this question we may carve out a role for the community of Faith in the myriad context of our challenging current claims of xenophobic violence. The most recent expression of xenophobic violence saw the posting of Biblical verses to condemn the actions of those who perpetrate in this season these dastard acts.
It is my submission that the expressions of the Community of Faiths exemplified in the local Christian Church, Jewish Synagogue, or Islamic Mosque are the places of Faith, which affords migrants a place to reconnect with a community away from the community they had always known in a sense of brotherhood.
The reality of one’s faith and teachings holds sway and become more prominent in times of uncertainty of dwelling. It is ones faith that one draws strength from, its one’s faith however defined or described that keeps the flickering hope of a future vivid. That faith finds expression in the community of believers where the importance of culture, dialect, or accent pales into oblivion when the fundamentals of a common identity immanent of a believer hold sway. It is thus therefore almost natural for the stranger / foreigner, to almost instinctively search for the place of worship because it holds a place of safety in that it informed by the dictates of Holy Writ necessitates the community of faith to respond in kind to those who are foreigners or strangers.
Yet the usage of the Biblical Text as found in Leviticus 20:33 speaks of a foreigner and stranger. This lends itself to us having to ask for the contextual reality of this notion of stranger and foreigner as understood in the Holy Writ. The moving of people from point A to B in the setting of a Leviticus connotes a city – State context at best, in which those who did travel were seldom the normal people, but essentially traders and these were also mostly men. Yet in our context stranger must be understood from a reality of what constitute a nation and its national borders. There are conventions stipulating clearly these national understanding in governance.
Generally, speaking the movement of people assume a crisis in the nation of birth, such crisis may be defined in a famine or war context. Should people leave their countries due to a specific crisis i.e. war or famine as was the case with the Somali’s the conventions governing these unique set of circumstances exists and is undersigned by most if not all participating countries of the UN in various forms. The conventions also are emphatic in description of definition of those who flee their country of birth labelling them as refugees. Refugees therefore are received in neighbouring states and there is a clear definition of the recipient states responsibilities to provide food, shelter, and medical care with the help of the international community.
It is also important to note that a refugee status is not an ad-infinitum status but it has a set period even if it may extend for years it always has temporal definition for it. Refugee status is informed by the reality that the crisis that caused the individual to leave his country of birth will come to an end therefore, affording the national to return to his country of origin.
What makes the movement of people peculiar in this our context and other African nations like Ghana etc. (As I pen this note, Ghana’s Union of Traders had resorted to the courts of law to press home the grievance about foreigners venturing into business ventures reserved for Ghanaians) is that movement people in this epoch is for economic reasons.
Unfortunately, there exist no conventions to deal with this reality of an economic refugee. There is thus a vacuum in governance of this type of refugee, despite the reality of global economic crisis that besets the world. Economic refugee status constitutes an acute grey area.
Appreciating the commonness of such reality for all strangers, one may postulate a role of the faith exemplified in Church, Synagogue, or Mosque in partnership with the State for those affected by the crises of the country of their origin.
It is here that I wish to evolve our debate to ask what has been the role if any of the FAITH agents in this our current dilemma of economic refugees and not refugees?
When I ask what has been the role of the FAITH it is less to prove short-sighted in comparing faith streams in popularity of contest but to search for the axis of what informs a FAITH based response to economic refugee status in the absence of regular conventions to dictate such help. A close examination of the Bible seems also silent on the subject of economic refugee status as far as I know.
It becomes challenging to understand the role of the community of Faith in this context where people left their country of their birth, not by crisis, to build a new life in another country and often not with the required due legal documentation that warrants a presence in the adopted nation.
• Is it the task of the community of Faith to firstly prove welcoming to the stranger of similar faith regardless of his legal or illegal status? The departure point for the one who imbibes the specific faith is that there is no strange land for the one who believes, hence, he is a brother. One may therefore extrapolate that the primary task of the community of faith is to prove welcoming and making the stranger feel at home. The task of the community of faith is to firstly provide in the basics of the needs of the stranger.
• Is it the task of the receiving community of faith to engage the stranger as to his legal status or not in the land he has entered?
• What responsibilities if any does the community of faith have towards the upkeep the State in as far as it relates to the honouring of statutory laws.
• How is that partnership between the community of Faith and the state actualised, as understood from the part of the community of Faith?
The partnership between State and the Communities of Faith must have a common purpose and common platform.
It therefore cannot be the task of the community of Faith to abet the breaking of laws to accommodate illegals particularly where there exist no legislative framework or international conventions on the status of economic refugees.
Neither can it be the community of faith’s task to prove silent on the illegals in use of swelling its numbers for its own political agenda.
The illegal economic refugee therefore cannot become a useful tool by which the community of faith may consciously built a relevance from which it in later context flex its muscle in claim of growth of its particular faith stream.
We must seek to understand its role, and to ask what has been its agency and to know if we can see a pattern or trends emerging that should direct and help us to meaningfully engage on the migrant and his faith in a strange land.
We must caution the community of faith however defined to desist functioning outside the confines of parameters of a partnership with the State, yet this partnership requires a functional state evident in all spheres of governance and engagement.
It has become important to challenge the Communities of Faith to articulate its position, stance and to share its praxis on engaging foreigners defined as economic refugees. For its role must be clear, denying others to accuse it to exploit the those who enter SA with the intend of building an economic life, yet in illegal way.
We must keep the community of Faith however defined accountable no different to the State to always act in the interest of the greater good less in self serving.
Bishop Clyde N. S. Ramalaine