On the International Day of Peace, September 21, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., along with other organizations, sponsored a “Global Day of Action and Prayer for Syria.” In addition to events that day in New York City, local congregations were encouraged to use the materials to pray and act for peace.
As we have worked at planning this event, we have sought to keep the focus on calling for an end to the war in Syria—calling on all parties to cease the violence and urging a negotiated solution. Many, however, assume the event is focused on Syrian refugees.
The Syrian refugee crisis is severe and deserves great attention. But it should not lead us to forget the following:
- The refugee crisis is a symptom, not the root issue. Syrians will not be able to return to their homes until the war comes to an end. If we want to help Syrian refugees, we must work for an end to the war.
- The majority of Syrians who have fled their homes are still living in Syria. Because they have not crossed an international border, they are officially termed “internally displaced people,” not refugees. Currently the United Nations (UN) estimates that about 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced, while another 4.8 million are refugees.
- Of these 4.8 million refugees, most are living in neighboring countries—Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. These neighboring countries are struggling to respond adequately to the needs of the refugees, along with the needs of their own populations.
- Many refugees want, if at all possible, to stay in the Middle East, rather than being resettled in a “third country,” such as Germany or the United States. Language, cultural and religious connections help them to feel more at home, and many want to stay close to family members who are still living in Syria.
- The number of refugees who have been resettled in Europe, the U.S. and other countries is still a minority. Many left the Middle East only when they felt they were left with no other choice, as UN agencies were forced to cut housing and food assistance to refugees due to lack of funding.
For these reasons, Mennonite Central Committee’s response focuses primarily on providing assistance in Syria and to refugees in neighboring countries. In our advocacy, we urge the U.S. government to cease its military activities in Syria and to make all efforts to support a peaceful, negotiated settlement to bring an end to the war. We also urge the U.S. to continue providing humanitarian assistance to people in the Middle East.
Of course the U.S. should also continue to resettle refugees, especially as the U.S. continues to urge Jordan, Lebanon and Syria’s other neighbors to keep their borders open to far greater numbers of refugees. But resettlement is just one small piece of what the U.S.—and we as people of faith–must be doing.
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach is the director of the MCC U.S. Washington Office. Story originally published on September 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission from Third Way Cafe.