1 The phenomenon of migration
The phenomenon of migration is not a new reality. Our own countries have been shaped by it throughout history. Today, as we can see around us, this phenomenon has polarized certain segments of the population. The poor understanding of the problem of migration coupled with the poor account of the facts makes the answers given equally poor. Neither the policies that invest incredible amounts of money in strengthening borders nor the media help us to see, with serene and positive eyes, the arrival of new and different people to these lands. Fear and suspicion seem to have the upper hand for the time being; the challenge to pass from hostility to hospitality remains on the table.
People move, in general, because they are looking for a better life. The desire for a more dignified life for themselves and those they love is the basis of the impulse to leave their own land in search of better opportunities elsewhere. Generally, this desire arises because the conditions for a dignified life cannot be found in their own countries.
Armed conflicts, the expropriation of natural and mineral resources, situations of violence, climatic changes and economic inequality have a decisive influence on the desire to risk their own life trying to reach other lands where it is perceived that “milk and honey” flow freely.
These migrations have consequences both in countries or areas of emigration and immigration and in both cases can have both positive and negative effects.
For emigration (leaving the country), it could have some positive consequences that go from the alleviation of some overpopulation problems, the reduction of pressure on resources to the investment of remittances sent by emigrants. But, at the same time, on the negative consequences, these situations lead to multiple problems in families ranging from the aging of the population, the departure of young people with the strength to work to decreasing public income (due to emigration of working people).
For immigration (coming into a country), it can mean the rejuvenation of the population and increasing cultural diversity so that the country begins to experience new cultural manifestations among many other positive consequences. On the negative side, imbalances may arise in terms of structure by age and sex; a greater political, linguistic and religious diversity arises, forming completely segregated and marginalized groups; immigrants often accept lower wages than the local population and this creates conflict plus increased pressure on the need for more services, especially care and education.
2 The reason for our being here in Roquetas de Mar
For 15 years now, the Missionaries of Africa have been working in ‘Roquetas de Mar,’ in the Diocese of Almería, Spain. At the moment we are three confreres and one stagiaire who continue this service with Africans in Roquetas de Mar. At the request of the local church – aware of the reality of migrants in her midst – our Society is committed to its mission of working with African migrants, especially with those who continue to seek guidance in their Christian journey.
Obviously, we are not the only ones who work in the world of migration in Roquetas. The service that we as Missionaries of Africa, give is like a drop of water when we take into account the immensity of the challenge that migration entails. In several areas such as the daily running of our “Centro Intercultural Afrika”, Urban Youth Camps, Catechumenate for African immigrants, Migrants Day celebration), we are networking with other laypeople, lay associations and religious communities in order to give a better service.
3 Our mission in the neighbourhood
We live in a neighbourhood that, despite its bad reputation in the rest of the city, is a sympathetic, lively, colourful and multicultural place. Here you will find poverty, prostitution, the buying and selling of a variety of small goods and all different kinds of things even drugs, but equally you will find solidarity – everything is there. Here you have a taste of Africa in this city that is renowned throughout Spain for its tourism. This neighbourhood where we live is also the place where newcomers from Africa are often received by people from their own countries, who house them, feed, and help them to make the first steps in this new country, even to find a small job in agriculture. And, since we are here, they can even find us as well.
To welcome and accompany them seems the best way to describe our mission in Roquetas de Mar. These two attitudes come together in a concrete way, on the one hand through the social dimension of our presence (Centro Intercultural Africa and all its social services), and on the other through what we might call a specifically religious dimension (Catechumenate for African immigrants in several parishes around our area).
It is a blessing to be here to welcome and to accompany the African immigrants with whom we cross paths. Mission experiences in Africa that have transformed us into the men we are today can be a help in our ministry of compassion required in these circumstances. However, they can also be the reason for our difficulties in adapting our way of serving these very men and women who are outside their usual environment. They live in a social context that does not look positively on them; living in groups but far away from their own families; alone and with little capacity to find a suitable partner. They live with the pain of knowing that the “milk and honey” that they sought can be seen and almost touched, but that it does not belong to them yet. They are strong and resilient people.
I wonder who receives the greatest service, if they, with our welcome and accompaniment or we, who through them, can live the affirmation of Jesus: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.
Thus it is that our mission continues in this coastal town of southern Spain that lies just across from the African continent. It is the same mission whose call we accepted in our youth to announce the good news to Africans.
Oscar Arturo, M.Afr