By Roy Oksnevad
The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II with nearly 60 million people forcibly displaced from their homes because of persecution and violence. In response to the humanitarian crisis at the World Summit on Refugees, then President Barack Obama on September 20, 2016 announced that the USA would increase the number of refugees resettled annually in the United States from 70,000 in 2015 to 85,000 in 2016, and, as recently announced, have established an admissions target of 110,000 in fiscal year (FY) 2017. The United States has also increased alternative pathways of admission, providing special immigrant visas to more than 11,000 people at risk from Iraq and Afghanistan in FY16, an increase of more than 4,000 from FY 2015. Of the 110,000 goal, 40,000 refugees would be from the Near East/South Asia, which includes Syria.
On January 27, 2017, newly elected President Donald Trump issued an executive order titled, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. This order dramatically reduces the total maximum number of refugees who could be admitted in FY 2017—from the 110,000 that the Obama Administration announced at the beginning of the fiscal year to 50,000.
In response, a federal judge in New York blocked part of Trump’s executive order on immigration, ruling that authorities could not remove individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries who had arrived in U.S. airports after the order had been issued. Other judges had ruled against the order, as well. In addition, sixteen Democratic state attorney generals issued a joint statement calling Trump’s move “unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful” and vowing to fight it in court. A Seattle federal judge on February 3 put a nationwide block on U.S. President Donald Trump’s week-old executive order that had temporarily barred refugees and nationals from seven countries from entering the United States.
Particularly given the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and California, many Christians have new questions about refugee resettlement in the U.S. Is it prudent to admit refugees from countries plagued by terrorism? Is there a risk of terrorists “infiltrating” the U.S. refugee resettlement program? How do we balance our commitment to biblical commands to care for the vulnerable with a natural desire to safeguard our own security? How do we as churches and leaders respond as questions become politicized by government leaders calling for new restrictions on—or even a complete halt to—refugee resettlement? World Relief has prepared a toolkit to help you sort through these complex questions.
World Relief, a Christian organization that resettles refugees, believes it’s a false choice to suggest that we must choose between safety and compassion. Their long history of welcoming refugees gives them a significant level of confidence in the screening process our government employs to vet those being considered for resettlement in the U.S., a process more thorough and multi-layered than any other immigration process.
It’s also our conviction that our commitment to the Scriptures compels us to continue with this vital ministry. Among the refugees who World Relief resettled last year, more were persecuted Christians than any other religious background. So welcoming refugees presents an important opportunity to stand with the persecuted Church: When we welcome one of “the least of these my brothers and sisters,” Jesus tells us, we welcome him (Matt. 25:31-46).
Our faith also compels us to continue to welcome those of other religious traditions. Jesus’ Great Commandment includes the mandate to love our neighbors, and he makes explicitly clear in the Parable of the Good Samaritan that our “neighbor” cannot be narrowly defined to include only those who share our nationality or religion (Luke 10:25-37). The arrival of not-yet-believing refugees to our country represents a Great Commission opportunity: While our witness is never coercive and we serve those of all faiths without discrimination, World Relief staff and the churches we empower have many opportunities to “give an answer to everyone who asks” about the hope within us (1 Pet. 3:15).
What are the facts we need to know about this crisis?
- Refugee: an individual who has fled his or her country of origin because of a credible fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, political opinion, national origin, or social group.
- Internally Displaced Person: a person who has fled his or her home but stays within the boundaries of their country.
- Asylum Seeker: a person who flees their country for the same reasons as a refugee but does not pre-qualify their claim. Instead, they file a claim for asylum after they arrive in their destination country.
- Migrants: those who leave their country due to poverty, natural disaster, general violence, or opportunity.
- Undocumented Immigrants: those who live in another country without legal authorization.
- Immigrants: inclusive of all of the above.
Key ways you can go about personalizing this crisis:
- First person storytelling: Assuming that the audience will be welcoming, invite a refugee from your community to share their story. Sometimes using an interview format can be easier for both the speaker and for you as you guide the time and content that is shared. If the refugee’s English is limited or their accent is difficult to understand, you may need to think about finding or paying for an interpreter to translate.
- Multi-media: Alternatively, share a video(s) from this or other online resources:
- 3-minute video from UNICEF of a boat journey to Greece through the eyes of a Syrian refugee girl. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDy8_8L3s0A
- 5-minute video from The Guardian of children describing why they left Syria, what life is like as refugees, what living in a refugee camp is like, and what their dreams are for the future. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WARQID-U-Jg
- A 3-minute video from the Los Angeles Times of a Syrian family who resettles in California. It starts with a video from their hometown when things were well, shows footage from the war, it skips over their camp experience and describes their feelings and thoughts about resettling in the U.S. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yJT1n7SbWE
- A 2-minute video from VOA News of a Syrian family arriving in Chicago. It shows footage from the war, in their apartment and a playground, statements from Illinois Governor Rauner and the Chicago city council as well as their fears about resettling in the U.S. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5o4gfR9uww
- A 9-minute video from Copa90 (soccer) called, “From Syrian Refugee to Wonderkid in Germany: Mohammed Jaddou.” It’s an in-depth story of a 17-year-old professional player and his harrowing journey from Syria to Germany, the family, and the life he lost for soccer dreams in Europe. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNv-2WV9pUU
- A 4-minute video from Q Ideas & We Welcome Refugees that is a call to action in response to the Syrian refugee crisis – focused on December 13th, National Refugee Sunday. Caution: it contains graphic images from the war in Syria. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=256&v=oUmHxLQbE8Y
- A 2-minute video from World Relief that frames the refugee crisis around “Jesus the Refugee” this Christmas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VH6l4lCipw
One or more of these videos can be shared towards the beginning of your conversation in order to set some context as well as to touch on some of the facts of the crisis. But the goal in this section is really to hear from Syrian refugees themselves and connect their story to our own lives.
World Relief has seen many embrace Jesus after being welcomed and loved well by a local church. They have been overwhelmed as an organization over the past several weeks with support from local churches, from 27 to 200, and over 1000 volunteers. There are many pastors and church leaders facing questions and skepticism from the individuals you lead. We pray that this toolkit will serve you well as you lead your leaders, staff, and congregants to think and act uniquely as Christians.
 A Church Leader’s Tool Kit to the Syrian Refugee Crisis © World Relief