This afternoon I took my sons swimming, eager to help them savor one of the last hot days of summer. They shot their cousins with water guns (thanks a lot mom, I’ve managed to keep them away from toy weapons for six years, and you walk past the clearance rack at Walgreens ONE TIME…) and, when we wearied of the pool, the boys picked fresh raspberries and gobbled them, juice dribbling down their chins. (No, I do not live in a Norman Rockwell painting; it was just one of those top-10 days.)
Because I had this day, I want to share some information about Syrian refugees and how you and I can help. We all know we’re lucky, and this week’s gutwrenching photo of the drowned toddler brought that knowledge home to roost in a major way. Our village may be punch drunk, but it’s still a village, replete with creature comforts, security, friendship and compassion. So please, indulge me in this departure from pop culture and snark. Soon enough, we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming.
I’m going to quote below a letter from one of my best friends, who works on refugee resettlement issues. In several increasingly frantic emails, I asked her what I can do to help the tide of unrecognized Syrian asylum seekers. She wrote,
“This is hands down the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation. There are 4 million Syrian refugees and almost 8 million who are internally displaced within Syria, and well over 12 million within Syria who are in need of humanitarian assistance. The size and scope of this crisis is extraordinary, which means that there needs to be a collective, global extraordinary response. For the most part, that has not yet happened.
So far, the U.S. has resettled 1400 Syrian refugees, an embarrassingly low number. It is true that the U.S. has given more humanitarian aid than any other country, $4 billion, to address the crisis in the region, and it is also true that there are thousands of Syrian refugees who are in the process of coming to the U.S. It’s still not enough. We are the largest resettlement country in the world, and the fact that we haven’t done more to welcome Syrian refugees is entirely unacceptable. It is important to let decision makers in DC know that Americans do in fact want to welcome Syrians, that communities are ready to receive them and are ready to welcome, and that the Islamaphobic and anti-refugee voices that seem to be gaining more traction are a small minority.
- Write op-eds. Let decision makers know that the American public expects more. That we are a welcoming people and that we have the will to welcome Syrians. Let them know that operating in the same business as usual fashion is not an okay response in the face of the refugee crisis.
- Meet with your representative and Senators. Meet with them when they are in district/state. Let them know that it is expected that they speak up in DC and take a stand to push the Administration to bring in more Syrian refugees.
- Write letters to your representative and Senators. Let them know in writing why it is important for the U.S. to play a real leadership role in resettling substantial numbers of Syrians.
- In op-eds, and in communications with elected officials, it is essential to mention that yes, we need to resettle many more Syrians, but that cannot be instead of resettling refugees from other parts of the world. We need to bring in more refugees. We are advocating to raise the number we bring in on an annual basis from 70,000 to 200,000, with 100,000 of those being from Syria.
- Work to increase the number of people who are supportive of refugee resettlement. Are faith groups in your community talking about refugees? Are university groups?
- At the local level, in communities around the United States, one way to help is to reach out to local resettlement agencies and other organizations that work with new Americans to see what kind of help they might need.
- The world is finally paying attention to what is going on in Europe. As it should be. However, we can’t forget that the number of refugees entering Europe is a tiny fraction of the total number of displaced in countries neighboring Syria. Here is a good summary of the situation.
* If interested in making a donation to an organization that is doing great work overseas with refugees, including Syrians, I would recommend Saint Andrew’s Refugee Services in Cairo. I visited them in January and was deeply impressed and touched by their work. Egypt is not getting the same attention as other countries in the region, but there are over 100,000 Syrians in Egypt, facing dire protection challenges, and St. Andrew’s is doing excellent work with them, as well as with refugees from all over Africa. Here’s their website.”