The news this week has filled many of our minds and hearts with the grim reality of the thousands of families, women and children being forced to leave Syria, and the colossal toll it is taking on those desperate to find asylum in other countries. Unfortunately, there remain no immediate solutions in sight to the Syrian civil war. Conflict and violence throughout Syria causing immense displacement within and outside of the country have pushed the current crisis to a scale not seen in the world since World War II. Many friends of the staff here at Refugee Services of Texas have reached out, asking questions about the recent pictures and videos of asylum seekers shared widely across all forms of media. As we respond, it is clear that there is a message for all of our neighbors across Texas who may be unfamiliar with the issues of refugees and resettlement, and especially for those who may wish to help us in creating a safe and welcoming community for families emerging from the Syrian crisis.
Over 4 million Syrian refugees have been displaced thus far. To become a refugee, a person must leave their country of origin, be actively fleeing persecution, and register with the United Nations. Many registered refugees live in camps and cities in neighboring countries while they await sanctioned passage to a new country. They are often in desperate situations without adequate access to water, food, or basic safety.
Our organization, Refugee Services of Texas (RST), has welcomed approximately 70 Syrian refugees to Texas through our resettlement program this year. Like so many who have fled the daily threat of violence and persecution, these refugees left everything behind - family, friends, and property - without knowing who or what will remain after the violence ends. Yet they retain their faith, both in the future and in themselves. They tell us that they are so grateful to be starting a new life here in Texas, in peace.
But these 70 people cannot be the end of our role in the global response to the Syrian crisis.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the United States has resettled fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees. Last year, Syrian refugees made up less than 1% of the refugee arrivals to the United States. With such low numbers thus far, there was great relief when President Obama agreed to welcome between 5,000 and 8,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, out of 4 million Syrian refugees in the world. Germany anticipates receiving 800,000 this year. Lebanon, with a native population of 4.4 million, currently hosts 1.14 million Syrian refugees. When reviewing these figures, one can’t help but wonder if the most powerful and wealthiest country on Earth today might be able to do a little bit more to assist those fleeing such hardship. As neighbors and as humans sharing the journey of this era, America and Texas can and should play a leadership role in the response to this crisis. Particularly given the success stories of refugee resettlement we see in Texas every day - both for our clients and the host communities we serve.
We anticipate seeing more Syrian families arriving over the next few years, and we welcome the opportunity to participate in the global response to this global crisis. For those interested in joining us in this effort, our service centers across Texas are in great need of financial donations and volunteers as they prepare to meet the needs of these new clients, including mentorship, language classes and job placement services, among other services.
Nationally, we must also urge our representatives for a greater U.S. response to the Syrian crisis as they add to the over 60 million people displaced in the world today, a number unseen since World War II. Forced migration is without question one of the greatest global challenges we will see in our lifetime. Our actions regarding our votes, our dollars, and our response to our neighbors - new and old - have never been more important.