A journey of hope and acceptance?
Migration is a story of hope. Millions of people throughout history have migrated in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones.
Sep 25, 2021
Our Christian conscience demands that we help restore their dignity as workers, ensuring that they have fair wages and humane working conditions. (Malay Mail photo / Yusof Mat Isa
By Cheryl Lee
Migration is a story of hope. Millions of people throughout history have migrated in search of a better life for themselves and their loved ones. Our brave ancestors left their homelands to create a new home in that land – a melting pot of races, religions, food and lifestyles that we know today. Our Malaysia, “Truly Asia”.
Today, the creativity, entrepreneurship, genius and hard work of subsequent migrants fuel the development and economic growth of our country. Many are willing to take the low-paying or unskilled jobs that are shunned by locals. They have given us a better quality of life. There are an estimated 6 million migrants in Malaysia, of whom 2 to 4 million may be undocumented. While some migrate for employment or marriage opportunities, there are also asylum seekers and refugees fleeing conditions of political oppression, civil unrest, violence, wars and climate crises. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported a large stateless population (108,332 people), mainly located in Sabah and Sarawak. At the end of July 2021, there were nearly 179,450 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia, including 45,180 children under the age of 18.
The gifts and contributions of the millions of migrants who flock to our country have been recognized, welcomed and celebrated in the past. Can we now give these newcomers the same welcome as our ancestors?
Hospitality to strangers is a virtue pleasing to God. In the Old Testament, Abraham and Sarah were richly rewarded with the gift of Isaac when Abraham showed hospitality to the three “strangers” who turned out to be angels of God. In the New Testament, the Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. We are reminded that God often comes in the guise of a stranger. Matthew 25: Verses 36 and 40 state that whenever we welcome a stranger into our midst, we welcome Christ Himself. We are called to treat the migrants and refugees among us like the brothers and sisters that they are – someone else’s mother, father, son or daughter, filled with dreams and aspirations to build a better future for themselves and their loved ones. They deserve to be treated with respect and supported to live fully in dignity, security and hope.
Instead, we see thousands of migrants being trafficked, especially those working in the construction, plantation and fishing industries. They are often treated inhumanely, languishing in hot, dirty and overcrowded housing. Many are not paid what they are promised and have no recourse. Some die in their sleep due to exhaustion from working more than 12 hours a day. A large number of domestic helpers do not have a single day off and have no freedom of mobility because their employers keep their passports. The Church calls on each of us to protect these vulnerable people from unscrupulous recruiting agencies, employers, and cruel and exploitative work systems. Our Christian conscience demands that we help restore their dignity as workers, ensuring that they have fair wages and humane working conditions.
Our common response to the Church’s invitation can be articulated by four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees among us (Message from Pope Francis for Migrant Sunday 2017). In short, we have an obligation to offer them a home away from home. We ourselves expect warm hospitality and acceptance from locals when we visit a foreign country. Can we extend this same warm welcome to the migrants and refugees among us? After all, we are made in the same âimage and likenessâ of God. In addition, they provide us with essential services in our neighborhoods and our nation, whether they are custodians, caregivers, cleaners or garbage collectors.
Pope Francis stresses the importance of being attentive to uplift the whole human family through the construction of a more inclusive Church, capable of creating communion in diversity. We are invited to reach out to the most vulnerable by shifting our mentalities from hostility and exploitation to hospitality and solidarity. This deep human solidarity extends in turn to the building of peaceful communities and the loving care of our environment, our common home. We belong to a big human family. The Holy Father’s invitation to move away from the ever more confrontational âthem and usâ mentality to an ever larger âusâ is so relevant. It must be an “us” as large as humanity.
We are invited to recognize the face of Jesus among the vulnerable migrants and refugees among us. May they feel the compassion of Jesus in us when we reach out to them. The challenge before us is to build a more inclusive Church and society, practicing universal love that transcends culture, religion and nationality. When we look at ourselves we have to recognize that it is a long, long journey that we have to take or continue. Let us remember Jesus’ words in the Gospel, âwhen you did this to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to MEâ (Matthew 25:40). Jesus, in every migrant and refugee is waiting for you, waiting for you.
–Cheryl Lee is a former employee of the Archdiocese’s Office for Human Development and currently serves the Regional Bishops’ Conference at the Office for Migrants and Refugees