Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Countdown: 9 Days to Go

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was now obviously pregnant.

Luke 2: 1-5

It looks like I've already missed a day, and now I got some serious catching up to do. Oh well, c'est le vie!!!

In any case, I wish I'd written this post yesterday because of the fact that the United Nations have declared December 18 as the International Migrants Day. It would have been so apt considering the day and also on how relevant it would have been with the chosen topic.

It was in 1990 that the UN General Assembly officially adopted the international convention on the protection of the rights of migrant workers and members of their families. It is a day that provides intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations to rally together to disseminate information on human rights and fundamental freedom of migrants, share experiences, and undertake action to ensure the protection of migrants.

The day is also seen as an opportunity to recognise the contributions made by migrants to both their host countries as well as to their home countries.

In many ways this is widely seen as a contemporary problem even though history is full of stories of migrations of all kinds. It's just that in recent years, the issue has become an urgent matter because of large scale human rights violations, stories of abuse and exploitation, and perhaps, a greater awareness of the problem as it exists and the need to limit it.

It's not as if migrants weren't treated unfairly in earlier centuries because that would be an unfair assumption. We are, perhaps, living in one of history's most 'well informed era', and that alone, perhaps, accounts for a greater awareness of the situation. And perhaps, much more than that, the need to address it in ways that would protect the rights of the vulnerable.

Migrants are viewed differently by various sections of both their host and home countries. Some view them as parasites that come in hordes to take away jobs and livelihood of the 'sons of the soil' while others view them as exploitation material since they are most likely to do any job that's available. There are few who view them in a positive light by recognising the potential to contribute positively to the good of the community.

If in earlier centuries, migration was an option that only the adventurous and the desperate would pursue, it is not so today. Globalisation has broadened employment opportunities, and extended the marketplace beyond the limits of one's geographical territory. There is a greater interaction between people of all nationalities and cultures, and has necessitated a greater mingling for work, residence and recreation.

And on top of that, we also have economic, political and ideological migrants who choose to leave (or flee, in some cases) to other countries because what they believe or stand for places them at a greater risk. Leaving the comfort of their home, hence, becomes a necessity.

Joseph and Mary were migrants of a different sort. They had to go to Bethlehem for the census and it appears that they had to stay there for a lot longer duration. And then, when they had to flee to Egypt because of the threat to the baby Jesus' life, their stay in Egypt placed them under the same category as countless refugees who do the very same thing in equally horrid situations.

Now the Christmas story is also about another migration, and that of Christ's decision to come and live on earth as a man. In both cases, it was a journey that had to be undertaken even though there was considerable inconvenience on the way.

It is easy to categorise the Christmas story as another example of migration, and as discussed above, it certainly is. I remember John Hubers, the pastor of my church in Bahrain once preached on Christ as the ultimate expatriate, and the message certainly shed light on the 'otherness' that He may have experienced on earth.

However, any discussion on migrants and comparisons to the Christmas story would be meaningless unless it teaches us to be more sensitive to the 'others' who come to work and live in our communities. Xenophobia is not the exclusive privilege of only a few ethnic communities but - if news reports are to be believed - affects almost all people groups around the world.

There are always 'reasons' given to complain about people coming in, turning respectable streets into slums, transforming entire neighbourhoods into a dump. It is easy to complain but the challenge lies in showing empathy, being understanding, and doing work that would help and not hinder integration.

It would, perhaps, be one of the best Christmas gifts we can give to the community, and one that can actually bring about a positive transformation. But for that to happen, we need to get out of the shackles of 'what's in it for me' and experience the freedom of 'what's in it for everyone.'

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