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Amid Refugee Crisis, Church Agencies on the Ground and Offering Homes

15 Sep 2015 – By Patricia Zapor

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The tens of thousands of would-be Syrian refugees who have flooded European countries this summer have prompted U.S. and international Catholic agencies to respond with both on-the-ground support and longer-term preparations to host them in the United States.

Internationally, Catholic Relief Services and its affiliates such as Caritas Internationalis are providing immediate assistance including food, water, sanitation, medical care and legal services.

At points where refugees are in transit or are awaiting next steps, CRS offers ”essential living supplies” that include sleeping bags and mats, hygiene materials, food and water.

Domestically, Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been fielding offers from parishes that are willing to take up Pope Francis on his call for parishes, religious houses and colleges to welcome refugees.

William Canny, director of MRS, told Catholic News Service that his office is helping a half dozen dioceses that currently do not have refugee resettlement programs to launch them.

In an op-ed published by The New York Times on 15 September, Canny joined calls for the United States to dramatically increase the number of refugees it admits, by accepting 100,000 Syrians in the next year.

Refugee Council USA, a coalition of religious and other nonprofit entities that work with refugees, in a 9 September letter to President Barack Obama pleaded for the U.S. to increase its annual ceiling for refugee admissions to 200,000, with half of those slots going to Syrians.

The letter said ”the vast majority of European countries have the capacity to welcome and provide protection for the refugees who are now risking their lives to find safety in Europe. However, the United States must show solidarity with its close allies in Europe and resettle a small number of refugees from Europe.” The letter said that could include families reuniting with their U.S. relatives, as well as unaccompanied refugee minors and refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who have close ties to the United States.

The letter acknowledged U.S. support to date — $4 billion in funding for the humanitarian crisis — but noted that only 37 percent of the United Nations’ appeal for the crisis has been funded and encouraged the U.S. to donate more and to urge greater contribution from other countries.

“It is abundantly clear that the Syrian crisis is nowhere close to ending, and even when it does, the needs of those displaced by the crisis will take years, if not generations, to resolve,” the letter said.

Canny’s op-ed said ”a robust U.S. commitment to the resettlement of Syrian refugees would encourage other reluctant nations, especially those in Europe, to accept more and to keep their doors open until this horrific conflict can be ended. It also would show that the United States is not indifferent to human suffering and remains, as always, a beacon of hope to the world.

Canny’s article noted that 4 million Syrians have fled their country in the five years of its civil war. Altogether, about half Syria’s population of 23 million before the war have been displaced from their homes. The World Population Review estimates about 5,000 people leave Syria daily.

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Tags: Refugees War Relief Caritas Catholic Relief Services