Lutherans press US government on Syrian refugees

By agency reporter
January 10, 2014

Evangelical Lutherans are asking the US government to take additional measures to meet the immediate needs of Syrian refugees.

In an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) 'Statement for the Record' – submitted to a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee in advance of a 7 January 2014 hearing about the Syrian refugee crisis – Lutherans have said that the "most vulnerable Syrian refugees should be resettled in the United States" and that, in continued partnership with the international community, US diplomatic efforts should be increased to bring about peace in Syria.

"Our church firmly believes that the plight of Syrian refugees and of Syrians still residing in-country should be addressed immediately and with adequate funding so that the crisis does not become more protracted. There are regional implications if the United States does not act decidedly and generously", said Stacy Martin, ELCA's director for policy and advocacy.

For nearly three years, the ongoing violence in Syria has led to a humanitarian crisis. Many Syrians have fled their homes, relocating to other parts of Syria or neighboring countries like Jordan. From the early stages of the conflict, the ELCA has been committed to standing in solidarity with companions in Syria, offering support and a call for an end to the violence and prayers for the people in that region.

Through Lutheran Disaster Response International, ELCA members contributed funds to support people affected by the violence in Syria – from providing food and hygiene kits to healthcare and rental subsidies to help alleviate some of the economic burdens faced by displaced families.

In addition to ELCA members responding to humanitarian needs, ELCA leaders have written letters to Congress and the president in 2013 urging for more diplomatic efforts to help Syria reach a peaceful resolution to its current crisis.

As the Senate's subcommittee continues to discern "how best the United States can help protect and support vulnerable Syrian refugees," the ELCA statement offered some recommendations for the subcommittee's consideration:

* The US government should increase its financial support to the region as a necessary means to meet the basic short-term needs of Syrian refugees. "The ELCA recommends that the US government further appropriate resources in order to keep up with the growing basic food and housing needs of refugees living in either camp or urban settings."

* The US must help the international community to open all parts of Syria for humanitarian access. Any effort to ease the refugee situation in neighbouring countries should take into consideration measures that can alleviate the dire conditions of internally displaced people and internally displaced distressed people. Church partners and others are prepared to further carry out these important humanitarian aims should additional resources be made available and should Syria be opened so that humanitarian help can reach those who need it.

* All vulnerable Syrian refugees should have access to the US resettlement program.

In its statement, the ELCA thanked the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights for its concern about Syrian refugees and willingness to take the time to host the hearing.

"The ELCA supports the generous assistance of the US government to date and encourages continued – and increased – support for Syrian refugees, (internally displaced people) and for a continued commitment to the diplomatic way forward for peace", the statement said.

According to the statement the ELCA, along with Lutheran partners worldwide, "plan to continue to assist as we are able to serve our neighbour in need. It is our hope that, as the subcommittee continues to deliberate, that the U.S. government will prioritise this significant humanitarian situation and make every reasonable effort to ensure that the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are identified and served in order to alleviate, to some degree, the magnitude of the refugee crisis being experienced by Syria's neighbours; this while ensuring that resettlement does not diminish [for] Syria's ethnic and religious communities the opportunity to fully repatriate and flourish once peace comes."

The ELCA is a member of The Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of 142 churches representing more than 70 million Christians in 79 countries.


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