|Well wishers offer warm clothing to Syrians after they arrived on a train from Budapest's Keleti station at the railway station of the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, early morning September 6, 2015. (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)|
|Only by rallying the voices of citizens can we demonstrate that we will not stand by while this crisis unfolds before our eyes. We must ensure that refugees are offered the dignity, compassion and opportunity they deserve.|
(Washington, D.C.) September 10, 2015 — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA welcomes the announcement Thursday at the White House that the United States will accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. However, JRS believes the United States must do far more to ensure that not only Syrians but also refugees of other nationalities seeking protection by flight across the Mediterranean are offered the dignity, compassion and opportunity they deserve.
The New York Times rightly notes "Germany has talked about taking upward of 800,000, so by comparison the American effort would be relatively small." The Times also notes the U.S. has accepted just 1,500 Syrian refugees since the start of the war there four years ago.
"The President does believe the United States has a moral responsibility to play a role in addressing this issue," said White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schulz on Tuesday.
While it is good news that the EU nations and the U.S. government are moving to offer more resettlement to Syrians, it should be noted that the current refugee flow into Europe is composed not only of Syrians but also of Iraqi, Afghan, and Eritrean, Sudanese and other African refugees, with equally compelling protection needs.
The U.S. should help to respond to these needs by increasing access for all groups in the Middle East seeking resettlement, and by providing access to resettlement processing to people with close ties to the United States, for example, the family members of U.S. citizens and former U.S. government employees, in European locations.
Even if the U.S. were to join European countries in making available substantial additional resettlement places for Syrian refugees, this process will take time and the numbers of places available will never meet the needs. Creative solutions, such as expedited temporary legal residence — including work authorization — should be implemented for those who seek the means to live a safe and dignified life and make a contribution to their country of refuge until they can be resettled or return home. Significant increases in aid for those now living in poor conditions in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon is also urgently needed to alleviate the hunger and misery that is now pushing them to risk the dangers of onward movement.
While the U.S. remains the single-largest donor of humanitarian aid for those affected by Syria crisis, JRS/USA encourages concerned citizens to contact their Congressional representatives to urge the U.S. government to sustain and increase this commitment to meeting basic humanitarian needs, and to extend desperately needed protection through resettlement at this critical time.
Only by rallying the voices of citizens can we demonstrate that we will not stand by while this crisis unfolds before our eyes. We must ensure that refugees are offered the dignity, compassion and opportunity they deserve.
Urge the U.S. to act quickly to:
• Re-double efforts to address the root causes of the conflict through robust political and diplomatic efforts across the region.
• Increase current levels of humanitarian aid, including life-saving resources, and invest in education programs for refugees.
• Increase U.S. refugee admission numbers to provide a safe haven for those in need.
Earlier Thursday, JRS Europe called upon the President of the European Council — Donald Tusk, the former Prime Minister of Poland — to lead member states to agree on common humanitarian action on refugees in their meeting of 14 September.
The letter signed by 13 JRS offices and two Jesuit partner agencies calls for EU political measures to back up the warm welcome civil societies have given to refugees across the continent.
"Not so long ago Poland was a major refugee producing country during the Second World War and then in the long years of the Cold War. Today, people from Poland enjoy freedom of movement across Europe as European citizens.
"As the first Polish leader of the European Council is it not time for you to lead Europe to take united humanitarian action and help refugees fleeing war and oppression?" begins the letter.
Jesuit Refugee Service is working within Syria, in neighboring countries, along transit routes and within Europe to provide safe spaces for refugees and assist them with food and water, clothing, bedding and medicine, and counseling and education programs.
Examples of programs to aid refugees within Europe include:
• The Welcome program in Paris matches an asylum seeker to a family or religious community willing to host them for up to a month. Other JRS offices in Europe plan to model programs after France.
• the JRS safe house in Macedonia house for refugee families.
• in Malta JRS provides counseling services and legal aid for asylum seekers and refugees.
• JRS continues to run language and vocational training courses from Portugal to Romania in order to help refugees integrate.
• In London, JRS has been involved in a project that helps women asylum seekers learn to ride a bike. Seemingly a simple skill, it not only boosts confidence but facilitates freedom of movement.
• In Italy, JRS helps more than 30,000 refugees each year, cooking hot meals daily, offering medical and legal aid, helping children with school supplies, providing language classes, and more.
• In Romania, JRS provides legal aid, housing, language classes and more to refugees including Syrians.
• In Germany, for those threatened with deportation, JRS offers specialized legal aid.
• In Portugal, JRS offers training to resettled refugees in skills like care for the elderly so they can get jobs. JRS Portugal is a member of a movement providing answers about legal issues and other support, so that local groups who offer to help refugees can effectively welcome them.
JRS continues European wide advocacy for humanitarian visas and expedited processing of visas.
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