by Wissam al-Saliby
The Syrian refugee influx into Europe respects no borders. From the Mediterranean shores to the Arctic sea, hundreds of thousands are determined to “get in”. I have followed the journeys of many young Syrians over Facebook as they have immigrated first to Greece and then on to their country of destination (often Germany or Sweden). A few weeks ago, I received a message from a pastor in Northern Finland along the Russian border, asking for advice. “These days we have a lot of Syrian refugees coming across the border, of which some participate in our Sunday service,” he wrote.
What is the solution for Syrian refugees? Although this conflict has been displacing Syrians for 5 years now, ever since the images of the three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed onto a Turkish beach went viral early September, greater Western attention has focused on this difficult question. My wife and I have received many messages from friends and acquaintances in the West asking us how they can help and to whom they can give money that will directly support refugees. The following is my two-cents as to what we can do:
First, donate to local ministries providing relief and aid to refugees. Many churches and ministries in and around Syria have been pushed out of their pre-conflict comfort zone and are currently serving refugees with a love that reflects the love of Christ. Most workers in churches and ministries show genuine compassion to refugees, are able to provide for the social, spiritual and physical needs of refugees, and do so without conditionality. In my view, and based on feedback from refugees, this gives them an edge over secular humanitarian organizations.
Second, lobby governments to cut the flow of weapons, military equipment and money to the fighting parties in Syria. As I write this phrase, this is what I read in the headlines: U.S. air drops ammunition to Syria rebels (Monday October 12, 2015). The war is sustained by governments in the Middle East and beyond who provide the means for it to continue. Emptying the stockpiles of weapons will force warring parties to agree on a peaceful solution. What has significantly worsened the situation is American and European weapons delivered to Iraqi and Syrian parties, ending up in the hands of the wrong people.
Third, lobby Western governments to accept more refugees. Having 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon (1 out of 5 people in Lebanon), several million refugees in Turkey and in Jordan, and millions of internally displaced persons in Syria, did not provoke the Western media coverage that we are seeing today in response to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees crossing illegally into Europe – many dying in the process. Nor was the Western media interested in 2014 when we witnessed a significant cut in aid to refugees from UN agencies, international organizations and states. Nor did anyone make the connection between the decrease in aid in 2014, and the rise of immigration to Europe in 2015.
About 250,000 lives have been lost since 2011.
Threatened with death in Syria at the hands of the warring parties, or threated with starvation in Lebanon, the only solution for refugees that I see is resettlement in Western countries. That is the only place today where they can build a dignified life for themselves and their children. That is the only place today where they can access healthcare and education. It is heartbreaking to see people leaving this region of the world. However, even if the war ends today in Syria, there has been so much destruction that many of refugees have no homes in which to return. And, no one in the world can gather the money needed to rebuild Syria.
Forth, be watchful of discourses that turn Muslim refugees into threats, or that ask for preferential treatment for Christian refugees. People are fleeing for their lives in the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. Bombs are raining down indiscriminately, just as they were raining down on European cities during the World War II. Killings and atrocities are being committed along sectarian, tribal or ethnic lines. We need to be watchful for and guard against media discourses that aim to instill fear and hate.
I have seen recently many articles, widely shared on Facebook, with this aim. However, they have proved to be fake, using counterfeit images and making baseless claims. Many of these articles and images have been debunked. Some hateful articles use real images and address real incidents, without however putting them in their proper context. (I have also been seeing similar hateful propaganda concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict whereby the Palestinians are similarly demonized.)
The following image that showed up in my Facebook feed is from a September 2015 article titled “Islamic Refugees Destroying Everything They Touch in Italy.” The picture is actually from 2010 race riots in Italy unrelated to Islam and the refugee crisis (and most likely related to the Italian mafia, according to an article in the New York Times).
The following two articles are either false or deliberately decontextualized. In an attempt to track the original source on Arabic and English websites, I only found articles quoting other articles and dubious “media reports”.
As the situation in Syria worsens, we should not feel helpless. Nor should we be resentful of the refugees. In Lebanon, in every neighborhood including my own, there are new families from Syria who have settled in. Soon, in every single European city there could be a Syrian refugee family. Whether in Lebanon, Europe or America, my prayer is we show them Christ’s unconditional love – the antithesis of what they have fled.
 If you want to donate, I recommend the Relief and Development Program of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD). IMES is a department of ABTS, which is a ministry of LSESD.
Reblogged this on Persona and commented:
Here is a Christian Middle Easterner perspective, worth consideing.
Thank you Wissam al-Saliby for your very informative blog. I am aware that in the day and age of information soundbites and pictures can be modified to fit one’s propaganda and agenda. I sometimes wonder where in the world can we find the “Truth”? I live in the U.S. and we sure don’t get it from mainline traditional media. It is very frustrating for one who is sincerely seeking to get true information. God bless you as you love the Syrian refugees in your country.
This is a very informative blog which gives very sound suggestions for helping Syrian refugees. Of course we should not differentiate between Christian and Moslem refugees but my concern is the survival of Christianity in the ME. In this sense we should remember Iraqi Christian refugees who are still in refuge in Kurdistan and other places in the ME.
We need to stress and work for a Christian lobby mainly in the US that will pressure for a safe haven for Iraqi and Syrian Christians . I stress the US because it is the superpower that can make a difference.
I am living in The Netherlands, one of these European countries that you think can offer the solution for the refugee crisis in the Middle East. (..?..) My homechurch had over 45 Syrian muslim refugees in the past few sundays attending our services. They were pleased to be welcomed in a church. It was an intensive and emotional encounter between our christian community and these Syrian refugees. Goodwill starts to build up, especially now that we have discovered that after all we are all human beings…. Refugee families have been linked to Dutch families for lunch and dinnermeetings. So one gets to know each other and each others habits. It creates a lot of energy both ways and is an incentive for ”change”. But we also encounter a lot of negative sentiments in our Dutch society. One question I would like to ask to ”Middle East-residents reading this post:
* How do we Europeans know that we don’t get the ”wolves” from the Middle East? Which seeds will they sow into our society? This is a common fear that I encounter and a realistic question. I am curious to get your feedback on this one.
Thank you Marjon for your comment and question. So what if (very hypothetically) there are wolves moving to Europe? I hear that question in Lebanon all the time, from friends and family when I share with them about our church’s outreach to Syrian refugees. Unlike for Europeans, Lebanese suffered at the hands of Syrians, so receiving them in churches or providing relief and aid is not natural to say the least. To that question, my response has recently been: “Do you know the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13.” “yes of course!” “Well, did the sower ever hesitate when he was walking and throwing the seeds? Did he ever think that there are birds and rocky grounds and thorns?” I believe this parable applies today to our relationship with the refugees. As per 1 Corinthians 3:6, the Church plants and waters, but God gives the increase. God can convert wolves into sheep. There’s one more dimension to your question. If you mean by “wolves” people who will resort to violence, I would argue that it is the role of the government security apparatus to face that threat, not the Church. The later should always show hospitality. In Lebanon where the terrorism threat is much bigger than in Europe, security agencies have very recently dismantled terrorist cells composed of refugees, while many churches keep showing hospitality to the refugees. Finally, I would like to invite you in June 2016 to our Middle East Consultation exploring the impact of refugee crisis on our understanding of Church.