The African Family and Migration

More than presenting theories and content based on the migratory phenomenon and on the family,
I want to provoke debate in this virtual room. I want our Church to be a concrete proposal for the
problems plaguing our sub-region and not just a set of sterile theories. May it be a source of
transformation, of social change.
I define Migration1 as a “re-construction” of the family structure: cutting and remaking the bonds of
spatial-temporal identity, as we can see in Abraham’s “mandate” to abandon his land, his father’s
house, his culture (his ancestors and his gods cfr. Gen. 12:1ff). This change is often projected,
infrequently spontaneous, but always forced.
The migratory phenomenon has natural and human causes since its genesis. Death appears as the
first cause presented in the Bible: the fratricide that led Adam to send the remaining son to abandon
the family and emigrate away. Today death remains one of the main causes of change in family
status, followed by wars, searches for better conditions, calamities and others. Migration is
therefore profoundly marked by crisis, since it implies separation from a consolidated relationship
and disturbance of an existing balance: it evokes loss, suffering, pain and, at the same time, reclaims
what has been preserved from previous cultures and ties2
1. Migration in Sacred Scripture
In Sacred Scripture we have some references that show God’s concern for migrants and He asks
Israel to take this concern as a priority, treating them with love and justice. “Do not ill-treat or
oppress a foreigner; remember that you were foreigners in Egypt” (Ex 22:21). And they do not take
advantage of them: “Do not cheat poor and needy hired servants, whether fellow Israelites or
foreigners living in one of your towns.” (Dt 24:14).
And when they are in a situation of vulnerability, God cares for foreigners with special attention:
“When you harvest your fields, do not cut the corn at the edges of the fields, and do not go back to
cut the ears of corn that were left. Do not go back through your vineyard to gather the grapes that
were missed or to pick up the grapes that have fallen; leave them for the poor people and
foreigners. I am the Lord your God” (Lev 19:9-10)3.
Early in the history of salvation we have Abraham who, according to the Bible, originates from the
city of Ur, of the Chaldeans, in southern Mesopotamia. And he was the son of Tarah, a descendant of
Shem, the son of Noah. Tara also begat Nacor and Aran. And God commands Abraham to leave his
land and his father’s house, his relatives, his people and their land to go to the land of Canaan and
form a new family, a new nation (Gen 12:1-3).
1 Migration is the process of displacement of people across the globe that can occur inside or outside the
national territory, temporarily or permanently, or even be spontaneous or forced.

2 C. REGALIA – E. SCABINI – G. ROSSI, “Introduzione”, in E. SCABINI e G. ROSSI, La migrazione come
evento famigliare, Vita e Pensiero, Milano 2008, pág. 7.

3 Cfr. C. LUSSI, Migrações na Bíblia, CSEM, 2017, pág. 1,
guras_de_migrantes_nas_Escritu ras.pdf, u.v. 15.04.2023.
Their offspring become immigrants to Egypt, being enslaved, to escape death by starvation in their
land. And to set them free, God chose a man who had been a migrant all his life. Moses was born in
Egypt, lived in Median, spent his life walking in the wilderness, and died before reaching the
promised land (Deuteronomy 34:5).
And here we see Israel, the people of God, who in Egypt, “built” a nation, before again migrating (the
Exodus), towards the promised land. Therefore, once again the de-construction of Abraham’s family
(cf. Exodus 17:3; A. 14.2s), by obligation of circumstances. And as we see below, Egypt will once
again be the place of migration of God’s family.
In the New Testament, we the family of Jesus, forced to migrate due to the circumstances of hatred,
persecution, and death, causes that underlie much of the reason for migration today in Africa and in
our sub-region: “Joseph is in the same situation as many of our people…, who are also on the run,
not by choice, but by necessity. They, too, are in exile because they are forced to look for work
elsewhere.” says Enrique Segovia, Guardian of the Basilica of the Nativity.
To which Francesco Patton, custodian of the Holy Land, adds: “… And so, to a certain extent, Saint
Joseph also becomes for us a kind of contemporary image of the many families and parents who
today are forced to leave their homeland to care for their loved ones.”4
Finally, I recall how the
Gospel came to us because of the persecutions to which the Apostles and other disciples of Christ
were subjected at the beginning of the Church. (cf. Act. 8). With these examples of Migration in the
Bible I intend to show how this phenomenon that coexists with humankind, today constitutes a
social problem, which especially touches African families, their essence and remakes them, often
from the bottom up, cutting the ancestral and traditional ties.

2. Migration in Africa
Our society is increasingly fluid and the world ever more violent, some countries enjoying a
flourishing economy and others living in extreme poverty, where social rules guarantee safety and
well-being for some and others where life is worth nothing and death fast. With this, many
individuals and families are forced to leave their homelands in search of safety and work, fleeing
oppression and political rebuke in search of survival for themselves and their offspring. The following
is a list of various types of migration that can be highlighted in our reality.
And given that for whatever reason, migration throws the person into a state of stress and
impoverishes the individual’s main support system – his or her social and personal network – we will
later deal with the effects of this separation on belonging, on the reassuring world of the extended
family and, not infrequently, on the nuclear family itself, leaving behind its own history, its own
memory, its own identity.

2.1. Types of Migration (in Africa)
There are several reasons that force people to migrate. Therefore, there are several types of
migrations, of which the following stand out:
1. External migration and internal migration
4 Cfr. CMC-TERRA SANTA, Em sua fuga para o Egito José encontra um abrigo,, u.v. 15.04.2023.
2. Temporary migration and permanent migration
3. Seasonal migration and transhumance
4. Spontaneous migration and forced migration
5. Intra-regional and inter-regional migration (there is also the so-called intra-urban migration
6. Rural exodus and urban exodus
7. Commuting migration
8. Diaspora
9. Nomadism
2. The de-constructing effects of the migratory phenomenon on African families and
Africa is a people in migration. The continent emigrates, but has also welcomed several
foreigners who leave their countries also for political, economic and natural reasons. These
migrations have had impacts on relations between indigenous peoples and migrants. According to
IOM, one of the most vulnerable categories to this phenomenon are children who “move voluntarily
and involuntarily face several challenges that are still to be properly understood and documented by
region and at national level”5 This fact shows us the state of families, they become unable to
support and protect their members forcing an emigration of all ages, especially young people and
DW in a news story in 2016 stated that “parents and heads of households in some African countries,
notably in sub-Saharan Africa, ignoring the risks and dangers of illegal emigration, due to lack of
information or schooling, force their children to leave the African continent to, as they say, “seek
well-being in Europe”.6
And in this displacement, some end up settling in the host country,
reconstructing their identities and disconnecting themselves from the original. This is the deconstructing effect, that is, if they de-constitute the ancestral family narratives (the de-constructor
effect) to adapt to those found or even reinventing new narratives, new identities, new cultures (the
builder effect).
The effects of migration on families are varied, but here I will try to place just a few for our joint
We are already talking about the change in the family structure and, consequently, in the
community structure. With the improvement of communication systems, travel ceases to be a
“definitive” separation and families gain a transnational status, where the affective bonds that bind
people from the same family and community are kept at a distance.
The affective triangulation – progenitors-caretaker substitute-child, – with the entry of a third person
into the lives of the children. Changes in family, gender and intergenerational relationships7
. As we
see it, migration can be a wound as well as an opportunity. For the children left behind, “the orphans
of emigration, the children left behind”, their childhood is marked by the deprivation of the
presence of their parents, especially of the daily manifestation of maternal love and attention.

INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION (IOM), Report on Migration in Africa, Addis Ababa, 2020,
page. 207.
6 B. BARRY and A. ROCHA, Famílias africanas e a emigração clandestina, Deutsche Welle, u.v. 17.4.2023
7 Cfr. C. GIULIANI, “Cultura, migrazione e famiglia nella letteratura psico-sociale”, in E. SCABINI e G.
ROSSI, La migrazione come evento famigliare, V&P, Roma, 2008, pág. 269s.
This determines their psycho-physical, scholastic condition, functional and emotional balance in the
family nucleus, the behaviors inside and outside the domestic circle.
This is another aspect to be highlighted, the feminization of migration, since studies show that the
children of migrant mothers are the most exposed to the effects of this phenomenon, such as the
state of anxiety or the feeling of fear and loneliness8
. The familiar “has a dramatic structure: it is the
seat of the person’s well-being and the matrix of his identity, but it can also be the seat of serious
personal pathology and the diffusion of insurmountable pain in the relationship between people.” 9
say Cigoli and Scabini. Therefore, by touching this genome, and as seen above, in the case of children
‘left behind’, migration causes the increase in poverty, in a vicious cycle, with consequences such as
abandoned children, street children, increased minorities and dissatisfied groups, leading to violence
in urban areas, including acts of xenophobia.
The other aspect to consider is that of people who leave for a foreign country, usually to Europe, but
also to other places, where family heritage is undone, where action is required to build and maintain
the relationship or heritage in the process of transmission between generations: The most difficult
work for those who migrate is to know how to build and manage complex syntheses, to actualize
and re-signify ties with objects and people; in short, to put into dialogue the multiple differences in
which they are living10
Action is required from various national and international institutions to help set up formation and
assistance centers, particularly in the outskirts, to promote employment and combat poverty among
young people. And the Church, as a mother and the “greatest” charity in the world, is concerned
about the increasingly glaring situation of migrant families in this African region.
Pope Francis advises us to consider migrants, as the Bible finally teaches us, because “people who
emigrate” experience separation from their context of origin and often also cultural and religious
uprooting. The fracture also remains in the communities of origin, with the loss of the most vigorous
and enterprising elements, and families, particularly when one or both parents emigrate, leaving
their children in the country of origin.” Therefore, the right not to emigrate, that is, to be able to
remain in one’s own land, must also be reaffirmed.
3. Contributions of the Church to mitigate these effects and their consequences
What actions are needed in her contribution to transform this reality and build strengthened
The Church continues to see the family as a fundamental resource in her mission. For this reason, it
takes special care of this institution, manifesting and proposing solutions and actions that can
contribute to the well-being of the family and its members, despite their wounds. The most recent
action to highlight was the holding of the annual conference held in our sub-region, more
specifically, by The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference”, in which migration in Africa
stands out. Or the March 27-31 seminar in Lumko on migration, where Bishop Kizito stated: “We
need to know the actual number of people living in our communities. The SACBC has made
undocumented children and stateless persons a priority”11

8 Cfr. L. ZANFRINI, “Dai «lavoratori ospiti» alle famiglie transnazionali”, in E. SCABINI e G.
ROSSI, ibid., pág. 183ss.
9 V. CIGOLI – E. SCABINI, “Relazione familiare: la prospettiva psicologica”, in ibid., pág. 22.
10 Cfr. C. GOZZOLI – C. REGALIA, “Cura dei Legami familiari nella migrazione”, in E. SCABINI e
G. ROSSI, Le parole della famiglia, VeP, Milão, 2006, pág. 158.
And in 2015, Cardinal Peter Turkson, as Prefect of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace,
announced the creation of a new forum to develop concrete solutions to the migration crisis, with
the African ambassadors to the Holy See12, as a way of listening to the proposals of the African
voices themselves: “Why is everyone talking about this, and nothing is coming from Africa?” … “We
are not listening to African heads of state. We are not listening to the African Union,” he said.
We should celebrate migrants as national heroes who sacrifice themselves for the good of their
families and their homelands, rather than condemning them for abandoning their children. It must
be a contribution of the Church, accompanying and supporting families torn apart by migration. In
the Pope’s words, our actions must ” not to remain an abstract idea but to find concrete
embodiment, then numerous related issues emerge, forcing us to see things in a new light and to
develop new responses.” (FT 128).
Our conference, and others like it, is an example of the concrete actions that are expected, and have
been seen, of the Church.
With her actions, the Church invites organizations to think and take concrete action to solve the
problem or minimize the effects of migration on families and individuals in Africa, for as the Report
on Migration in Africa indicates, the “realization of a positive future for Africa will require the
sustained commitment of Africa and its global partners to work together to ensure that no one is left
behind, and may migration continue to be positive, safe and beneficial for all”13, for the African man
is fulfilled only by the community and in the community.
Investment in education for life must be made, which implies education to “a community of
property, which unites all its members to preserve and strengthen life, for example the land, the
hereditary patrimony”14
It should be borne in mind that in the separation, the quality of the relationship with those who care
for the children, the intensity of communication with the absent parents, the sending of money,
these are important factors for the greater or lesser difficulty experienced by the children of
migrants. Therefore, with young people being the large population layer, under the effects of
migration, the solutions also require a “major investment in youth development, including skills and
business, political, social and leadership development, remains critical.”
It also calls for rural revitalization, rural-urban links, megacities between African countries,
development of regional corridors and implementation of the FTAA. All this is fundamental to
deepen intra-African migration for the transformation and development of the continent. This
requires dedicated leadership, committed follow-up and long-term vision and planning,
accompanied by responsive, transparent, and accountable governance.
In conclusion, I leave the theme that the Holy Father has chosen in his traditional message for the
109th day of Migrants and Refugees to be celebrated on September 24th: Free to choose whether to
migrate or to remain15. The aim is to “promote a renewed reflection on a right not yet codified at the
international level: the right not to have to emigrate or, in other words, the right to be able to
remain in one’s own land.”
12 M. C. L. BINGEMER, “Migração e a pressão Vaticana à África”, in =com_k2&view=item&id=557:migracao-e-a-pressao-vaticanaa-africa&lang=en
13 OIM 2020
14 R. R. de A. ALTUNA, Cultura tradicional Banto, Secretariado A. Pastoral, Luanda 1985, pág