Ethiopian Cardinal Explains the Hard Realities Facing Many African Youth

Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa tells reporters that for most youth on the continent, it’s not modern technology that’s the challenge, it’s simply “a question of survival.”

Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa speaking to reporters at the Vatican, Oct. 18, 2018.
Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa speaking to reporters at the Vatican, Oct. 18, 2018. (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

Immigration and its often-detrimental effect on youth has been a central focus of the Youth Synod, but a different and informative assessment of this issue and the other challenges many African youth face came from Ethiopia’s most senior prelate today.  

Speaking to reporters, Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa explained how most migration in Africa (80%) takes place within the continent, and is often due to poor governance, corruption and conflict, fueled by the arms trade. 

He also said today’s modern young migrants are not welcomed as they used to be in the past. 

The cardinal, who is president of Ethiopia’s bishops’ conference, also warned of the threat of ideological colonialism – the tying of Western aid to Western secular values such as contraception and “reproductive rights” (abortion) — which he said is “continuing.”

He also highlighted the exploitation of local people by multinationals in order to mine the mineral coltan used in mobile phones, and said he and the synod participants were touched by the concerns raised for today’s 40 million modern slaves, victims of human trafficking. 

Cardinal Souraphiel questioned whether some European countries had Christian roots if they don’t take migrants fleeing war, poverty and conflict.

Answering questions from reporters, he said the Christian obligation has always been to receive the stranger, and to those that don’t, he said one day it “could be the other way around” and “Europeans will be looking for a place to go.” 

Most young Africans love their countries and want to stay despite the hardships, he said, but others falsely think that fleeing to Europe would be a “paradise” as they are not given a true picture. “That is not reality, and that reality isn’t passed to the youth,” he said. 

“Life for refugees is not easy,” the cardinal said, and “that fact should be told” in order to teach migrants “to stay at home and change the situation from within.”



Here below are Cardinal Souraphiel’s main comments to reporters:

“The synod has been interesting for me because it especially speaks about the youth and when it speaks about the youth in Africa or the Horn of Africa. As you know, of the great populations, more than half are young people and young people are very active and want to change their situations which challenge their lives. Most are raised in poverty so they want to change their situation from poverty and get out of it.

“Most of the world’s media talks about the migration of youth, mostly from Africa or Eastern Africa, to the Middle East, to the Gulf countries, to Lebanon, that area, or those who come through Libya to Europe. That is to say, it is a very limited picture of the migration of youth. The majority of youth migration takes place within Africa… The international media show youth migrating to different areas of the Middle East and Europe, but that’s 20%. Eighty percent is within Africa, so the great migration, displacement of the youth is within Africa. Why? Because of lack of governance and because of that we have corruption, conflicts, sometime civil war, liberation movements, supporting this or that side. Together with that is the great trade in the world, the arms trade, which is really big business in Africa, coming from Europe, America, China, and some of developing world where they sell arms. 

“If you look at the Somali coast, it’s a big, big coast. Through that comes various arms, and these arms are introduced to Eastern Ethiopia, Northern Kenya, Northern Uganda, South Sudan and the Congo, all the places where there is a lot of unrest and civil conflict. But nobody speaks about it. Sometimes the Holy See speaks at the United Nations about it, and some countries speak about it, but since it is big business and many are involved in it, it’s not mentioned. And many young migrants die because of that, because they get employed as child soldiers, boys and girls, using modern weapons not like in the old days, but more sophisticated weapons like Kalashnikovs or landmines even. So this is the big tragedy of youth migrating in Africa and who are displaced within Africa. 

“In the old days, when a migrant went from one place to another, he was received well, given a glass of water to drink, some water to wash his feet, and given a place to rest. Nowadays being migrant is not easy. When many Europeans migrated to other countries in the world, they had a better chance than the modern migrants as we see now. As a poor country, Ethiopia has nearly 1 million refugees, after Uganda it’s the second country with the biggest number of refugees from South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. It receives people in the Biblical tradition that a refugee, stranger, who comes and knocks at your door is received well. Give him water, wash his feet, give him a place to rest. 

“It is sad when we hear some borders are being closed to some needy people who are escaping poverty, war and conflict in Europe. You ask yourself: where are the Christian roots of Europe? Is not Europe a continent of Christian countries which confessed Christian, biblical values?  So these questions have also been discussed in the synod. Also what our Holy Father speaks about, ideological colonization: most of problems affecting youth in Europe, America or some parts of Asia are different to those faced by African Europe, but they are put on bishops: “If you do not do this if you don’t do this, this, or this you won’t get funds,” or “If you don’t accept this request of the West, you’ll not get funds.” This type of ideological colonialism is continuing.

“Multinational companies go to places like Congo because of coltan needed for phones, and whole villages are wiped away, put into a forest, with the youth and the mothers and the elders, and the land is then exploited for minerals. This is a fact that’s been going on. The Catholic Church is present with those are being displaced, are witnesses, and we saw some of them were victims of this human trafficking and big exploitation, but the Catholic Church stands with the poor and those displaced and the vulnerable living in their countries. 

“This morning I was touched when Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said it’s estimated we have 40 million slaves in the world, most of them young people — 40 million slaves in this modern age, and this is part of the human trafficking networking of the world. I was touched by that. What can the Church, being the universal Church all over the world, do about it? That was also discussed in the synod, and mostly touched the hearts of the youth members in the synod who know about these issues. 

“So the Synod is still continuing, and I hope it will address all the youth in the world, not only in the developed world, but also the youth who don’t have means to hear what the Church is trying to say on their behalf. Because in some areas, let me tell you frankly, for the youth it’s a question of survival. It’s to survive first before you speak about other issues of, say, the internet age or modern technology.”