South African reflection: Magi and Migrants

  • Anthony Egan SJ

Had Jesus been born today would the magi have been able to visit him before the Holy Family had to make its escape? Indeed, would the family have escaped into Egypt so easily? Based on what I see in the world around me, I don't think so.

Picture the scene: the magi arrive at Immigration in any country. Unless they came from highly privileged countries in the European Union, North America, Japan, South Korea or Singapore, they would have had to produce visas.

Have you tried to get visas recently? Apart from astronomical costs (particularly if you come from the 'wrong' countries), you have to prove you don't intend to stay beyond your visit and have enough money to cover medical costs and costs of repatriation. For some countries you can also expect to be politically, racially and religiously profiled to prove you're not a terrorist.

Now imagine trying to get a visa quickly. It does not happen, given the latest trend of consulates to 'outsource' visa processing to companies - more expenses, combined with clerks who are so trapped in processes they must follow that it is hard for them to imagine 'exceptional circumstances'.

Imagine, too, explaining to the humourless bureaucrat at Immigration that you are following a star to find a king! You'd be in a holding cell awaiting deportation before you can say "Amen".

So, dear magi, unless you are Singaporean, North American or from the EU - forget seeking out the King!

Turning to the Holy Family, imagine their attempt to escape. Apart from evading the comprehensive surveillance that exists today, consider trying to cross any border (whether legally or illegally).

Assume for a moment that the country they would enter has no visa restrictions. (This is a big assumption, I know, but since its Christmas let's give them the benefit of the doubt). What happens when they request refugee status? If they are lucky they get a temporary refugee status that they will spend years trying to beg or bribe bureaucrats into permanent status. If unlucky they get arrested and sent back to their deaths.

And if they come in by crossing illegally, assuming they aren't murdered by traffickers or criminals who wait for them, they are forced to disappear into the underground economy of their 'host' country. In some places this means permanent casual low-paying jobs without any protections afforded by labour law. Add to this the constant fear in many places of xenophobic attacks and harassment by corrupt police.

Not a pretty picture, I'm afraid, as we celebrate Epiphany but I think it's a true picture of the real experience of those who travel and particularly those who are migrants and refugees.

When Jesus was born he had the good fortune (at least in his youth) to be part of the Roman Empire, an open-bordered and inclusive political entity probably unlike any polity before or since. This was real global society, unlike the globalization of wealth and privilege of today.

Makes one a bit nostalgic for the First Century, doesn't it?

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Tags: Jesuit Institute South Africa, South Africa, Magi, Anthony Egan SJ, Three Kings

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