U.S. Bishops Warns of Worsening Refugee Crisis in Syria

Delegation Calls for More International Support to Avoid Humanitarian Crisis

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WASHINGTON, D.C., Nov. 2, 2012 (Zenit.org).- In a press conference November 1, members of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) delegation to the Middle East warned of a worsening Syrian refugee crisis and urged more international support for Syrian refugees in the region.

«Without more international support, the humanitarian situation, both inside and outside Syria, could reach a breaking point in the not so distant future,» said Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas, a member of the USCCB Committee on Migration and head of the delegation. «The international community, led by the United States, must do more to provide assistance to the refugees in order to avert a humanitarian crisis,» he added.

The delegation traveled to the region October 7-20, visiting Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Bishop Taylor was joined on the mission by Holy Cross Father Daniel Groody, associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and consultant to the USCCB Committee on Migration; Anastasia Brown, director of refugee resettlement at USCCB; Beth Englander, director of special programs/populations; Natalina Malwal, transportation specialist for processing operations; and Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy and public affairs.

Brown emphasized that many refugees who have not registered with the United Nations and are hiding in local communities are particularly at risk. «Although much attention is rightly being paid to the refugees in camp settings, those living in local communities are falling through the cracks,» she said. «As they are spending down their resources, their needs are increasing and the services to date are insufficient.»

Fate of Syrian Christians

The delegation also expressed concern about specific groups fleeing the violence, including Syrian Christians and other religious minorities and Iraqi refugees residing in Syria.

«There is great fear among the Syrian Christians, who are caught in the middle of the conflict and are concerned that their community will become targets of the violence. In fact, we heard many stories of Christians being threatened, a precursor to the sectarian violence which emerged during the Iraq war,» Bishop Taylor said.

Beth Englander, who oversees services to trafficking victims and unaccompanied children for USCCB, cited the vulnerability of refugee women with children, the majority of the Syrian refugee population. «Many of the men are remaining in Syria to protect their property, to work, or to fight,» she said. «Women with children are left to make it to safety on their own and become vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.» She added that youth between 15 and 17 are particularly vulnerable, as they are expected to return to Syria and fight in the conflict.

The delegation also visited Egypt and detailed stories of African refugees experiencing trafficking and torture in the Sinai desert. Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy and public affairs said that the U.S. and Egyptian governments must work together to rescue these victims and halt the practice. «If our nation is going to claim leadership in ending the scourge of trafficking, then we should show leadership and end the torture and trafficking occurring in the Sinai desert.»

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