World Refugee Day is celebrated on 20 June to raise awareness on the plight of women, men and children who flee persecution, famine, war and other catastrophes, from their countries of origin. The City of Johannesburg, the Department of Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees, Bienvenu Shelter, Jesuit Refugee Service and other humanitarian agencies gathered at the Cathedral hall to observe this day.
The episcopal vicar for the department of Pastoral Care and Migrants, Fr Ivaldo Bettin cs, gave the opening and welcome.
Representing the City of Johannesburg was Cllr Mpho Phalatse. In her keynote address she said, “If you have never been in a situation where you have been forced to leave the comfort of your home, you will never understand the predicament refugees find themselves in.
“The City of Johannesburg takes the plight of refugees very seriously and has established migrant help desks in seven regions. The aim is to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are received warmly and informed of their rights.
Mpho also spoke against the manner in which refugees are treated in host countries. She said out of fear of lack and insecurities, locals are wont to exhibit xenophobic tendencies towards refugees. “Our aim is to help locals change the manner in which they perceive non-nationals and to help refugees understand the position of locals,” she explained.
Asylum seekers and refugees need to participate meaningfully in government programmes. They should be able to visit libraries if there is one and be welcome to be part of the Integrated Development Plan processes.
“As government we are legislated to engage with citizenry and they perhaps have solutions for the city as refugees also bring with them skills and talents,” she said.