Christmas is here again – the season of joyful celebration! It is a season when people migrate from one city to another for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. Christmas is a season of sharing. It was within this season that God, our loving Father gave his only beloved and begotten Son to the world (John 3:16). It is also a season when we are all encouraged to share our gifts with one another; especially the orphans, widows, prisoners, and above all, the immigrants and of course, the refugees in our midst.
I may not know of other parts of the world but here in Nigeria this year’s Christmas seems to be the coldest Christmas I have ever experienced. Nigeria is still struggling out of recession. Most States and Local government are still owing workers’ salaries. Worst still, most Nigerian immigrants across the world, especially Libya, are being deported back to Nigeria. The needs of these immigrants were not captured in the Nigerian annual budget. Considering the massive deportation of Nigerian immigrants we are going to look at this year’s Christmas from the point of view of the immigrants.
If I may ask, does Christmas have anything to do with immigrants? What is the relationship between Christmas and immigrates? What are the challenges facing the modern Immigrants? What has the gospel of Christ, especially the Christmas message, to offer to the immigrants, especially those of them that are sold into slavery in cruel places like Libya?
Indeed, Christmas has a lot to do with the immigrants. Our Lord Jesus Christ was once an immigrant. The essence of Christmas is rooted in Christ Jesus leaving his beautiful home in heaven to migrate into this sinful and painful world. He told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world…” (John 18:36) As long as heaven is concerned, Jesus was an immigrant here on earth.
The best Christmas narrative is the one that depicts the parents of Jesus as pilgrims and even as immigrants. According to St. Luke, “Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-8). The birth of Jesus, according to this passage, took place in a foreign land. In fact, there was no room for the Saviour of the world. That is the more reason why you must prepare a place for him in your heart and home.
At a very tender age, Jesus travelled with his parents to Egypt, a place of refuge. “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt…” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod” (Matthew 2:13-15). While Jesus and his parents were in Egypt, they were immigrants. By so doing, Jesus identified with millions of immigrants across the world. Child of God, the Lord will always provide a place of refuge for you! If you are immigrant, He will surely protect you. What happened to Herod will soon happen to your enemies!
Most immigrants, especially those from Nigeria and even Africa as a whole, are those who are running for their dear lives, due to war and unfavorable conditions in their home countries. A good number of them are looking for a way to survive due to economic hardship. The worst thing that can happen to any refugee or immigrant is to be deported from his place of refuge. Worst still, if these immigrants are sold into slavery, as is the case in places like Libya.
As these immigrants are being deported back to their countries there is a mixed feelings and reactions among them. Considering what they passed through, most of them are thanking God for bringing them back home alive while some of them are disappointed and even depressed because the purpose of their journey has been defeated. None of them travelled to be deported. They had their dreams.
Obi Emeka Reuben, one of the returnees, recounts his ugly experience, “I left Nigeria because I had no sponsor to go back to school after my National Diploma (ND). My mother, who could have helped me died due to a stomach problem. I had no other means and I decided to use the little money I saved to travel through the land. I left with no place in mind; I was looking at Germany or Italy to do any work I see.” Imagine! how could anyone leave his homeland to unknown destination with no place in mind? This shows the level
His journey to Europe was not as smooth as he anticipated. Instead of Germany or Italy, his dream destination, he ended up in Libya prison and according to him, “There is plenty of stress and disaster while travelling to Libya. My boat capsized and many people were carried away by water. I was one of the people rescued by local fishermen and was later arrested. I was in prison for six months in Libya before being taken to a deportation camp.”
This is just one of the few lucky ones who were not taken into slavery. The director general of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Julie Okah-Donli, declares that over 25,000 Nigerians are held in Libya in this year, 2017. You could imagine the kind of inhuman torture these ones are passing through in the hands of their slave masters. Most of them have even lost their lives in the process.
Commenting on this ugly situation, the director of NAPTIP states, ”In the aftermath of the recent crisis stemming from the inhuman treatment of Nigerians in Libya and elsewhere, both the Presidency and National Assembly came out strongly with statements and actions to strengthen national response to irregular migration.” The most obvious and urgent response, of course, is the deportation of these immigrants back to Nigeria.
If I may ask, will the deportation of these immigrants back to Nigeria solve the problem? What exactly is driving the youths of Nigeria out of their homeland? Why are they fed up with their country of origin? Do you want to tell me that if we have good governance, stable power and water supply and even good roads, people will be travelling out? Who would like to risk his life if there is job opportunity in Nigeria? What do you expect in a country where workers are no longer receiving their salaries? Pensioners are dying of hunger for non-payment of their pensions. What else do you expect in a country where people are no longer feeling secured in their homeland – a nation where people are kidnapped ransoms are paid.
With the present situation of things in Nigeria, the youths are completely fed up. Most of them would prefer to die in a foreign land than to die of hunger in their own country of origin. While embarking on this fruitless journey most of these immigrant borrowed money; some sold their landed properties before embarking on their journeys but they are now back to square one. So, where are they going to start from? Does the government have any plan for them? How are they going to spend this year’s Christmas and what does the future hold for them?
These questions and many other related questions can only be answered through divine intervention. As the psalmist rightly asked, “Where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). Dear reader, if you have not started praying for the immigrants, am using this medium to appeal to you that you start today to pray for them. They need your prayers and support.
This year’s Christmas is incomplete and in fact meaningless if we don’t consider the plight of these deported immigrants. They need our support. The depressed ones need some kind of rehabilitation. The sick ones need medications. They all need financial assistance, for them to be reintegrated back to the society. As you share your bread and your Christmas rice with the hungry, especially our deported immigrants, may God richly bless you in Jesus name – Amen!
Happy Christmas from your Humble Servant, Rev. Fr. John Damian Adizie of the Holy Spirit.
REV. FR. JOHN DAMIAN ADIZIE, OCD