Learn more about settling refugees, supporting displaced people
This summer the United Nations High Commission for Refugees reported that violence has forced 60 million people from their homes. That’s one in every 122 people worldwide. If this population was a country, it would be the world’s 24th largest. The last time the number of refugees and internally displaced people exceeded 50 million worldwide was during World War 2.
Throughout the Bible, we are repeatedly told that God loves and cares for foreigners, and that he expects his people to do the same. “The Lord watches over the foreigner, and sustains the fatherless and the widow,” says Psalm 146:9. Our biblical faith compels us to respond to the plight of refugees and displaced people with compassion and hospitality.
Numerous faith-based organizations are providing aid to Syrian and other refugees and it is challenging to know which agencies to support. This resource guide focuses on materials and opportunities provided by two agencies with which U.S. Mennonite Brethren have a connection:
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the inter-Mennonite development, relief and peace agency that represents our Anabaptist roots, is very involved in helping Syrians remaining in the region. While MCC does not work with refugee resettlement in the U.S., MCC Canada is involved in resettling refugees in that country.
World Relief, founded as the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals and an agency that connects to our evangelical commitments, is one of nine agencies that will resettle the 85,000 refugees that the U.S.
MB Mission, the North American global mission agency, has workers involved with refugee ministries in Europe and the Middle East but has not developed support resources on the refugee crisis. The Witness, MB Mission’s magazine inserted in the Nov/Dec issue of the CL, includes several articles about their work with Syrian refugees.
What does the Bible say?
For resources on preaching about refugees, review the material available from Evangelical Immigration Table, an organization supported by World Relief. Evangelical Immigration Table is a broad coalition of evangelical organizations and leaders advocating for immigration reform consistent with biblical values. Preaching/Bible study resources: http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/preach/faqs/
MCC offers a resource on loving strangers as ourselves. You can access this material online at http://mcc.org/media/resources/696
Know your terms
Dan Kosten, senior vice president of World Relief’s U.S. Programs, says that while we frequently use the word “refugee” to refer to anyone who is displaced, it is important to be aware of the various words used to reflect distinctions in legal status.
Refugee: Under U.S. law, refugee status is granted to people who have 1) fled their country of origin 2) because of feared or suffered persecution 3) based on five criteria: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. This definition does not include people who have left their country of origin because of poverty, natural disaster or violence.
Migrant: The umbrella term for people who have left their country of origin. This includes everyone from international students to workers entering countries illegally in search of a better life. There is no special protection under international law for the 240 million people across the globe labeled “migrants.”
Internally displaced person (IDP): Someone who, out of fear for personal safety, left his or her home but not the country. In 2014, an estimated 30,000 people became IDPs every day.
Asylum seeker: Any person who is applying for protections in another country. In Europe the country is obliged to house, feed and protect asylum seekers while weighing the applications, which might take years to decide. If granted, asylum assures the right to live, work and access health care in the country. A denial may be appealed once; if denied again the person may be deported to his/her country of origin.
Stateless: Someone who does not have a nationality recognized by any country because of discrimination, redrawing of borders or gaps in nationality laws. There are about 10 million stateless people worldwide.
Resettling refugees in the United States
The United States Department of State has contracts with nine voluntary agencies, six of which are faith-based, to resettle refugees in the United States. Refugees are admitted to the U.S. through five airports, says World Relief’s Dan Kosten, and are initially resettled in designated communities. These agencies are:
· Church World Service (CWS)
· Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM)
· Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC)
· Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)
· International Rescue Committee (IRC)
· Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS)
· US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI)
· United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)
· World Relief Corporation (WR)
View a map of every community where these nine voluntary agencies are working: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=z-huPGcwH7EM.kl3Joz_9lvys
For more information on how you can become involved in World Relief’s work with refugees, visit their website, http://refugeecrisis.worldrelief.org/
For resources and additional information on World Relief’s work with refugees, visit their resources page. http://refugeecrisis.worldrelief.org/resources
How does MCC U.S. help immigrants?
MCC U.S. supports immigrants through its Immigration Law Training, which provides legal training to people who work with resettlement agencies and other groups. In addition, several of MCC’s regional offices work with immigrants, helping them gain legal status and learn how to protect themselves from human trafficking and domestic violence.
MCC U.S. Washington Office director Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach urges us to advocate on behalf of refugeess by asking our legislators to:
1. Address the root causes of the crisis by ending armed support and putting energy into a negotiated solution acceptable to the Syrian people
2. Provide more humanitarian assistance in Syria and its neighboring countries.
3. Allow more than 10,000 Syrians to come to the U.S. Resettlement provides a durable solution for some refugees.
Two common questions
How many refugees are admitted to the U.S.?
The U.S. admits about 70,000 refugees a year. In 2015 the top countries of origin were Burma (18,386), Iraq (12,676), Somalia (8,858), Democratic Republic of Congo (7,876) and Bhutan (5,775). Syrian refugees totaled 1,682. Source: Migration Policy Institute.
In 2016, a total of 85,000 refugees will be admitted and that number could increase to as many as 100,000 in 2017.
How can we be sure “refugees” aren’t really terrorists?
Any refugee admitted into the United States undergoes a thorough screening process led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in consultation with the Department of Defense and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. These checks are among the most thorough background checks undergone by any immigrant or visitor coming to the U.S. Other countries with resettlement programs have similar checks in place.
World Relief’s Kosten says, “If you come to the United States to do harm, you do not want to be fingerprinted or photographed. A terrorist wants to be as inconspicuous as possible.”
Helping displaced people that choose to stay in Syria and neighboring countries
Many Syrian and Iraqi families face the question of whether to go or stay as the conflict continues to rage around them. International humanitarian aid is dwindling. Leaving puts their lives at risk on lives on dangerous seas and as they travel through countries hesitant to open their doors. To stay also is risky. We can help MCC to grow its humanitarian response and to pray and advocate for a long-term solution, so that Syrians can have enough food, water, shelter and work to survive until they can return home.
Rashid El Mansi, program coordinator for the Popular Aid for Relief and Development, a partner of MCC in Lebanon, explains that if given a choice, displaced Syrians want to return to their homeland. And so they stay in neighboring countries.
“They want to go back to their houses,” he says. “They want to go back to their shops, to their land and their normal life. In the meantime, they want to stay as close as they can geographically but also culturally. They keep the hope they can return back.”
El Mansi encourages North Americans to provide assistance to displaced Syrians that have chosen to stay in the region.
“We have millions of refugees who are in need of assistance. We have to find a solution first to bring peace but also to bring aid to these people,” says El Mansi. “If 10,000 refugees go to the U.S. and let’s say 100,000 go to Europe, this is like 5 percent of the population. You still have 95 percent of the people in high need of assistance in neighboring countries and in Syria,” he says.
Riad Jarjour, of the Forum for Development Culture and Dialogue, an MCC partner, agrees that the solution to the Syrian refugee crisis goes beyond resettling refugees. “We would like to see an end to the fighting," says Jarjour. "We would like to see pressure put on all the governments and all the internatilnal community to stop the fighting and enable peace to take place. Our people are dying in the sea just because they want to go to another country. We have to think of a better way of dealing with this. Please work on ending the conflict and bringing peace. Let’s rebuild our countries … so that people people stay and live as they did in the past.”
Rosangela Jarjour, a Syrian living in Lebanon and working with MCC partner the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches, is in daily contact with churches in Syria who are addressing the needs of displaced people or those still living at home. She calls the pastors, priests and community leaders who have chosen to remain in Syria her heroes.
“They risk their lives for the sake of others, and they do it willingly and happily,” she says. She tells of visiting with a pastor who is restoring his church building in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and former commercial hub. The church has been bombed twice.
“’How on earth are you rebuilding the church when Aleppo is being bombarded every day,” Jarjour recently asked this pastor. His answer: “The church has to be a sign of hope to the people. Otherwise, if we don’t do it, there will not be one single person in Aleppo.”