Peace on the Hill: Responding to refugees

RLSBy Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach

On June 20 the world will mark World Refugee Day. This year’s commemoration is particularly sobering, with more than 60 million people around the world displaced from their homes—more than at any time since World War II.

No one wants to become a refugee. But every day people are forced to do the unthinkable—leave their homes, often without knowing where they will end up or how long they will have to stay. Some leave due to natural disasters, others due to grinding poverty, persecution or violence.

Since 2011 more than half of all Syrians have fled their homes due to the brutal war that is raging in their country. More than 8 million have sought refuge in other parts of Syria. Nearly 5 million more have left Syria, most of them in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

Caption for photo: An "informal tented settlement" is home to Syrians taking refuge in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Photo: Doug Hostetter.

An “informal tented settlement” is home to Syrians taking refuge in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Photo: Doug Hostetter.

Despite media images of refugee camps, only about 10 percent of Syrian refugees live in camps. Many are largely invisible in urban areas, where they share crowded spaces with extended families and neighbors from home.

Regular income is hard to find, as it is difficult to get a work permit. This makes it easy to exploit workers. Many children are also forced to join the workforce. More than half of Syrian refugee school-age children are not enrolled in school, according to the United Nations.

The need for services for refugees has taken a significant toll on the host countries. Assistance from the international community is not keeping up with the vast needs. Thus far in 2016 only about one-fifth of the money pledged by the international community for the Syria crisis has been received.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has responded with our largest humanitarian effort ever, totaling more than $37 million. MCC has provided relief kits, heaters, blankets and other emergency assistance. MCC also supports longer-term food, shelter and educational projects, as well as efforts to build peace in communities torn apart by the conflict.

MCC has resources available on ways to support refugees, including support for MCC’s Syria and Iraq crisis response. You can also send an email to your legislators to ask that they support more funding for the Syrian crisis. MCC U.S. has joined the Refugees Welcome campaign, which has an advocacy toolkit and other resources available.

As we approach World Refugee Day this year, reflect on how you and your congregation can help support refugees and then take action.

Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.

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