Fleeing violence. This experience may seem far removed for most of us as we go about our everyday lives. If you had to escape to save your life and leave your home and all your possessions behind, what would you do? Where would you go?
Today, millions of people in Syria are struggling with these very questions. The New York Times has been covering and offering analysis of the Syrian refugee crisis and featuring compelling photo essays that provide an amazing visual perspective that takes you beyond the statistics. With the growing crisis in Syria, we still need to come to grips with the sheer numbers of people impacted.
Just a year ago, the Syrian refugee crisis affected about 270,000 people — compare that to the city of St. Paul which has about 290,000 residents. In recent months, the impacts on Syrian citizens have exploded and over 6 million people have been displaced.
The entire Twin Cities metro area has 2.9 million people — about half the number of Syrian people who’ve been forced from their homes by war and violence. Just stop for moment and consider what it would be like if everyone in our 7 county metro area was on the move by foot, and taking only the belongings they could carry. It’s staggering to contemplate.
Of Syria’s 6 million refugees, about 4.25 million people are still in Syria, but are on the move, having been pushed out of their homes to save their lives. Another 2.2 million Syrians have fled their home country spilling across the borders into neighboring lands of Lebanon (almost 800,000 refugees), Turkey (over 500,000 refugees), Jordan (over 540,000 refugees), Egypt (over 100,000 refugees), and Iraq (almost 200,000 refugees).
The governments of these countries approach the swelling numbers of refugees differently. Lebanon’s government has chosen not to build refugee camps — but the result sounds like what you might read in the Bible. One New York Times report described people finding shelter in over crowded apartments, partially built structures and in stables — which strikes a special chord as we consider the journey of the Holy Family to Bethlehem, and their flight to Egypt after the birth of Jesus. In Jordan the Zaatari Refugee Camp has grown so much, it is now their largest city.
The United Nations has compared what’s happening in and around Syria to some of the largest crises in recent history — like the tragic impacts of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the impacts on the Iraqi people during the war, and the violence that ended the existence of Yugloslavia. What makes the crisis in Syria stand out is the exponential growth in numbers of refugees over such a sort period of time.
During December and January, our parish will explore the journey of refugees as part of our Global Stewardship initiative. We invite you to find our resource kit online and check out a documentary film made by parishioner Dan Baluff. Dan sought out refugees and agencies in the Twin Cities that offer support. He conducted many interviews inviting people to share the stories of their journeys, their experiences, and how they came to arrive in the Twin Cities.
You’ll hear stories of their persistence, extreme danger, acts of kindness, chance and survival. On Sunday, January 19 at 1:00pm, we’ll show clips from the documentary, and invite you to join us at The Basilica to hear a Speakers Panel who will share insights about their work in the Twin Cities and around the world to assist refugees.