Stark Choice in Syria – Become Refugees or Risk Injury and Death

Wounded 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh sits alone in the back of the ambulance after he was injured during airstrikes targeting Aleppo, Syria, on Wednesday, August 21, 2016 (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

In January of this year I visited Greece and Serbia with a delegation from @CatholicRelief to better understand the #RefugeeCrisis in the Middle East and Europe and to witness the humanitarian relief being provided.  While there we had the opportunity to meet many refugees and aid workers.  In this blog, I have reported stories of just some of the people that we encountered.  

Since returning, I have done many presentations on the trip and I have tried to help listeners understand why Syrians are willing to undertake such an arduous and dangerous journey from their homes.  At just about every presentation I have been asked some of the same questions: 1) Why are they leaving at all; 2) What organizations are helping the refugees; 3) Are these just people who want to come to the United States; and, 4) Are they terrorists?  These are reasonable questions but all too often the answers that reflect the reality of the situation are overshadowed by speculation, fear, politics and misguided news reports.  Without going into all of the detail that may be found in earlier posts, I wish to very briefly answer these questions again based upon what I witnessed with my own eyes during our trip. 

First, the picture at the top of this post clearly explains why Syrians are willing to suffer the hardships and rejection that comes with being a refugee.  Little Omran Daqneesh was injured, at home, during airstrikes in Aleppo.  His older brother was killed in the bombing.  I think that American parents can sympathize with a refugee parent who flees to avoid the risk of injury or the death of their child.  Consistently the refugees we met stated that their impulse to leave was entirely driven by concern for the safety of their families.

There are many organizations aiding the refugees across over a dozen nations.  The organization that I work with, Catholic Relief Services works diligently with many partners to serve the many humanitarian needs of the refugees.  These services include providing water, food, clothing, medical attention, legal advice and much more.  The organizations work in an extremely cooperative manner but because of the huge number of refugees, almost all of them are greatly stretched beyond their capacity to serve. 

Most of the refugees want to stay close to their homeland, whether they are Syrian, Afghani or Iraqi.  They have the hopeful belief that peace will eventually come about and they can return home.  The United States committed to taking 10,000 refugees and it was announced this week that this goal was achieved.  Those coming to the United States may or may not want to stay over the long term.  The commitment by the United States is tiny compared to other nations (and frankly an embarrassment) since the obligation to accept refugees is founded upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, pushed through the United Nations by the U.S.  Demanding strict moral codes and then ignoring them is not in the best interest of our nation.

The fear that refugees are terrorists is vastly unrealistic.  Could there possibly be a terrorist among 4.7 million people who have fled Syria, sure there could be.  Would a terrorist take the risk to undergo a two year wait, be interviewed by multiple U.S. agencies including the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department?  That is unlikely.  There certainly are easier ways for a terrorist to gain entry into the U.S.  In fact, only the dumbest terrorist in the world would take this path.  The statistics bear this out.  Over 80% of the 10,000 admitted so far are women and children, 19.5% are men with their families and only .5% are single men.  In addition, not a single attack on American soil can be attributed to a Syrian refugee.  Irrational fear that deprives others of safety and perhaps life is simply not justifiable. 

It is so easy for  Americans to forget that this massive humanitarian crisis is still ongoing.  We get distracted by news reports of the presidential campaign or suffering in other areas due to floods in Louisiana and the earthquake in Italy.  But then, something comes blasting through that grabs our attention – this time it is a picture of a 5 year old, alone, injured and in shock. 

As a grandparent of a 5 year old I think I can understand the confusion, fear and vulnerability that little Omran must have felt.  It is gut wrenching.  As a Catholic, a Christian and an American I don’t believe that I can simply look the other way.  I have to pray, advocate and contribute financial resources to provide refugee aid.  I hope that the readers of this post will be similarly inspired.


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