Church World Service (CWS), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and other faith communities are urging the U.S. government to resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees this coming fiscal year, in addition to increasing the total U.S. resettlement commitment to 100,000 refugees from other parts of the world.
The CWS and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service are cooperative ministries by churches based in the United States, including member churches of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
“More than 60 million people have been displaced from their homes,” said Erol Kekic, executive director of the Immigration and Refugee Program for CWS. “Syria is the largest crisis we are facing but let’s not forget Somalia, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Faith communities worldwide have noted that the world is seeing the largest number of displaced people since World War II. “But our response in the U.S. is nowhere near what it was so many years ago,” said Kekic.
The U.S. has resettled 1,517 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the conflict.
“This is the crisis of our generation and we have a moral responsibility to do something about it,” said Kekic.
CWS is urging people to sign a petition — already signed by more than 60,000 people as of 9 September — to demand the U.S. do more in response to the refugee crisis. CWS has a goal of gathering 100,000 signatures before 30 September.
Lifting our heads out of sorrow
As the U.S. ends its fiscal year on 30 September, the petition will send a clear message to the U.S. government that the nation needs to increase its resettlement efforts, said Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration Service (LIS).
Many in the U.S. expressed sorrow and outrage when news photos were published of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a beach in Turkey after his family tried to reach safety as they fled violence in Syria.
“Yet each of us is called to lift our head out of sorrow and weeping and ask, ‘What can I do to help refugees like Aylan and his family?’” said Hartke.
As CWS, LIS and other WCC member churches in the U.S. are advocating for the U.S. government to do more to resettle refugees, they are also offering aid to those refugees who have managed to arrive in the U.S.
Doris Peschke, general secretary of the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME), commended U.S. churches that have helped to resettle refugees and also those that continue to advocate for a stronger response to refugees from the U.S. government.
“I hope that churches that are working to resettle refugees in the U.S. will share their stories with churches in Europe as we all unite on a pilgrimage to help our neighbours in need,” said Peschke. “We have a voice that is now being heard by our governments, by our faith communities, and most of all by the refugees themselves — a voice that says we will not stand silent as countries shut their doors.”
Response to the CWS petition has been overwhelmingly positive, said Kekic. “This response counters directly the narrative we’ve been having from outright racist groups,” he said. “There are groups in the U.S. who are saying they only want Christians. They fear everything and anything that isn’t them.”
As petition signatures continued to accumulate each day, Kekic believes that change for the good is possible. “This is incredibly encouraging. This is the real United States of America. This is who we are as a nation.”