South African Urges Welcome of Refugees

Prelate Says Those Fleeing Zimbabwe Deserve Aid

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, DEC. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The Christian obligation of South Africans is to welcome those fleeing the escalating crisis in Zimbabawe, said the archbishop of Johannesburg.

In a Dec. 14 statement, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale called on South Africans to welcome Zimbabweans fleeing what he described as "events seriously disturbing public order," a phrase taken from the 1969 Organization of African Unity Refugee Convention

The archbishop, who is also president of the episcopal conference, described emigrating Zimbabweans not as migrant workers but as refugees fleeing an economic and political crisis.

He pointed out that the situation in Zimbabwe has not improved since his last statement nine months ago. Living conditions have deteriorated such that survival has become a struggle for most of the population, he noted. He cited the case of Bulawayo, where there were about 60 burials in August 2006; a year later the number had increased to 867.

Zimbabweans fleeing their homeland are seeking food, medicine and employment to support themselves and their families, the 59-year-old prelate said. He lamented that when they arrive in South Africa, they are not welcomed, but are accused of taking jobs and food, harassed and forced to pay bribes to the police, and exploited by unscrupulous employers.

Archbishop Tlhagale urged South Africans to make an adjustment to their lives by welcoming Zimbabweans and assisting them as much as possible. He said even small gestures of welcome and compassion will make a difference.