Statement from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America on the Reception of Refugees in the United States in Light of Recent Terrorist Actions around the World
Since the tragic terrorist actions in Paris, Beirut, Mali and elsewhere in the past two weeks, there have been polarized reactions to the reception of refugees, mainly of Syrian nationality, worldwide: an understandable reaction of concern on the one hand, but a sad overreaction of fear on the other. We are all concerned first and foremost for the safety of the citizens of the United States which must be continually addressed and assessed. At the same time, the humanitarian disaster caused by the war in Syria to which the U.S. government has contributed by calling for the removal of the established Syrian leadership – as it did in Egypt, Iraq and Libya – requires a moral response from the people and government of our great country. Misguided U.S. foreign policy helped create the so-called “Arab Spring” which has been a “tornado” that has destroyed Arab countries, leaving power vacuums that have fostered the soaring, vicious activity of terrorist groups including ISIS, al-Nusra, and others in the Middle East and around the world. All of this has resulted in an unprecedented number of deaths of innocent people and lack of basic services like healthcare and sanitation, healthy food and drinking water, safe and dignified housing, and so forth.
We must us not be guided by fear or bigotry, but rather let us work to heal the wounds of the injured, clothing the naked and feeding the poor as our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ has taught us (Matthew 25:35-36).
As Syria enters the fifth year of civil war, one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history is unfolding with no end in sight. This bloody conflict has resulted in the deaths of more than 220,000 Syrians and displaced more than 11 million people, driving almost 4 million people to neighboring countries. Fully one-third of refugees are now in substandard housing and the UN Refugee Agency says the situation is“deteriorating drastically.” An estimated 600,000 refugee children, many of whom have just spent a harsh winter in tents, are no long attending school.
Mark Ohanian, director of programs for International Orthodox Christian Charities, speaks with Acton Institute Director of Communications John Couretas about the Syria relief effort, and the massive flow of refugees into neighboring countries such as Lebanon.
For those in the West Michigan area, Ohanian will be in Grand Rapids on Sunday, May 17, to give a talk on what’s happening in Syria and the Middle East at St. Nicholas Antiochian Church, 2250 E. Paris Avenue SE Grand Rapids MI 49546. IOCC is one of the few relief agencies doing work inside Syria today. It partners with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East and acts as a lead agency for other church relief organizations and major governmental agencies such as USAID and the United Nations. For more information on the event, visit this link.
International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), the humanitarian relief agency for Orthodox Churches in the United States, is working with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East to provide emergency medical assistance, hygiene kits, and personal care items to displaced Idlib families who have fled to the Syrian port city of Lattakia. Idlib, in northwestern Syria, was captured by Al-Qaida’s local branch of Islamist fighters in late March. Now there are reports of the Syrian government using chemical weapons on the Islamist rebels. The situation is grim for those fleeing the fighting.
According to [IOCC] staff on the ground, approximately 300 of the nearly 5,000 displaced people fleeing Idlib arrived in Lattakia with injuries, many related to flying shrapnel. Some of them arrived alone knowing nothing about the rest of their families, while others managed to get out with their families intact. “I escaped with all of my 14 family members,” said Fadi, a displaced Idlib resident. “We barely fit in the small car which was our only transportation. Many cars around us crashed as they tried to flee, because they were shot by a sniper while trying to escape the city.”
Rami, who also fled Idlib, said he and his 9-year-old daughter made it out through the city’s sewage channels to avoid snipers. They walked all night to reach safety, but he now faces new fears for his family. “My daughter is in complete shock from what she witnessed, and I can’t stop thinking about my parents who are still trapped in Idlib.” IOCC/GOPA is helping traumatized parents like Rami through counseling that will equip them and their children with the coping skills they need to deal with such difficult experiences. (more…)
In an interview in Our Sunday Visitor, an official with the Catholic Near East Welfare Association said refugees from Syria into Lebanon are increasing “tremendously” because of the military conflict. Issam Bishara, vice president of the Pontifical Mission and regional director for Lebanon and Syria, told OSV about the “perilous situation in Syria and how the local and global Catholic Church is responding.”
OSV: What has life been like for local Christians in Syria?
Bishara: Christians or non-Christians, they are fleeing the shelling. The Christians would have an additional worry — they are not sure of the future. The experience of Christians in Iraq was horrible. If something similar happens to the Christians in Syria then they would be in a very difficult situation. Most of the Christians who fled Iraq went to Syria and Lebanon. The question is, what if the Christians in Syria were displaced? What we hear from them is that they worried about their future, about the form of the new regime and the new government — would there be a democratic regime, a fanatic Muslim regime? They’re not sure.
OSV: What is CNEWA doing to assist the refugees?
Bishara: We are assisting 2,000 families in the regions of Homs, the Christian Valley, Tartus and Damascus. We work through the infrastructure of the local church — the Greek Orthodox Church, which is the largest Christian community in Syria, and the Greek Catholics, the Melkites, and through the different sisters and the Jesuit fathers as well.
OSV: How has the Church responded?
Bishara: The Church has responded in a very good way. We are trying to utilize their social workers and priests and the sisters and try to raise funds and pass it through them. They are purchasing all of the commodities that we agree on and putting it in boxes and taking care of distribution. They are extremely accountable and very strict in terms of who gets what. We’re very happy with the way they are presenting their reports. We are in almost daily contact with them.
In an Aug. 2 report, the director of programs for International Orthodox Christian Charities affirmed this dire picture. “There is a palpable sense of urgency and people are worried about the growing violence throughout the country,” said Mark Ohanian. IOCC is working closely with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all The East and Syrian relief partner, Al Nada Association, in an effort to reach as many people as it can and to determine what the most immediate needs are for the growing number of displaced and vulnerable families. (more…)