The plight of the refugee

He stands before me, a man short in stature. His dark eyes, large and full of hope and resilience. His manner of speaking is soft, and his command of the English language is faltering although he is trying his hardest to communicate with me.


The man whom we shall call Victor, comes from a land, not of war in recent years but of severe poverty.  His story is one told of thousands of men and women who come to South Africa looking for better lives. In the country of his origin, famine and drought have caused such poverty that even people who have got money cannot buy food because for years there has been no rain so crops have not grown, livestock has died, and rivers have dried up. Speaking to numerous refugees and those still in that country, I am told that people have to walk up to three hours each day from their villages to get to the nearest water source.


He came to South Africa looking for work in order to send home money to support his parents and 5 siblings, as well as his grandmothers and girlfriend. Having minimal education and being an immigrant, he cannot find a high paying job. The best options he has is as a general laborer. But he is honest, kind, and he works hard, so although he doesn’t get much money for his working, he can survive.


He stands before me today, trying to explain why he is worried and sad. His one grandmother just passed away unexpectedly. And his other grandmother is in the hospital right now, gravely sick. His brother is in Johannesburg looking for work, but coming up empty. Victor is still the only one in the family with a steady job and so he still has to support them all. He misses his home, he last saw his family, loved ones and country well over 6 months ago.

His girlfriend who could not get legal papers is currently on a taxi travelling the back roads though 4 different countries to get to South Africa. They have to keep away from country officials as they travel through each country, he gets a call every now and again from the taxi driver asking for more payment to bribe certain officials.

He is unsure if he will be able tZimbabwean-border-jumpers-cross-the-Limpopo-river-into-South-Africa.-PHOTO-Zimbabwe-Situation.jpgo afford the final place she needs a bribe to pass through. Just a week ago he could not afford the bribe for his uncle who was trying to get into the country, so his uncle attempted to swim across a border river, but drowned in the process.


As he tells me this, my mind wanders with how relaxed and privileged my life has been. My eyes fill with tears, while he remains calm and even cracks a smile. I consider if I would be able to have such a brave and resilient outlook if it were me who was in his shoes. He is not begging, he is not pleading poverty. Rather he is amazingly thankful for what he has today, and he only prays that his girlfriend will arrive safely.

We have become friends over the recent months. We may be from differing backgrounds and circumstances, but with empathy I feel his pain, I feel his stress, and yet he seems not to feel it. And then I share with him the wonderful thoughts we’ve spoken about many a time in Psalms 37:10,11, 29 & Revelation 21:3,4. He smiles and says to me, he wants to be there when that happens.

I sit to write about his plight, not because he needs our help, not because he wants charity. But because I want to share his amazing character and bravery.

If each of us could attempt to be kind, share a smile, and not hate the next person just because their skin colour or country of origin, or language is different then just maybe we could become citizens of God’s Kingdom.


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An update a week after writing the above story, and deliberating on whether I would actually post it or not, I ask Victor where his girlfriend is. He answers that the river was in flood (my blood runs cold, hoping she didnt try to swim), but he says she didnt try to swim. However the border officials have gotten extremely strict and therefore were not even accepting bribes. So his girlfriend had to climb back onto a taxi and take the arduous and long trip back to their country of origin.
A little piece of me dies inside as he says this, the hopeless romantic in me wants to help them, but there is nothing I can do to help this young couple.


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