The U.S. bishops have encouraged Congress to work to end the violence in Syria, and to help address the major humanitarian crisis facing the conflict’s more than 2 million refugees.
“The Syrian refugee crisis deserves the full attention and mobilization
of the international community,” Bishop Eusebio Elizondo Almaguer,
Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle, told a Senate subcommittee on human rights
“With the brutal conflict and ever-growing forced migration, there is a
serious lack of shelter, food, water, sanitation, education, health care
and protection inside Syria and in neighboring countries that host
Syrian refugees,” said Bishop Elizondo, who chairs the U.S. bishops'
committee on migration.
The Syrian civil war, now in its 32nd month, has claimed the lives of
more than 115,000. There are 6.5 million internally displaced Syrians,
and another 2.3 million have become refugees, most of them in Lebanon,
Jordan, and Turkey.
The humanitarian crisis is “among the worst refugee crises on record,” the bishop said.
Many parents have died or have been separated from their children.
Refugee girls face dangers such as sexual violence and forced marriage,
while boys face recruitment back into the civil war.
Facing this, the bishops are asking that Congress work for a ceasefire
in the conflict; this comes as Secretary of State John Kerry is urging a
rebel group, the Syrian National Coalition, to attend the Geneva II
peace talks, aimed at setting up a transitional government.
Bishop Elizondo also suggested that legislators assist countries
neighboring Syria to accept and accommodate refugees; increase caps on
resettlement in the U.S.; and remove “unjust impediments to U.S.
resettlement” in immigration law.
He cited Catholic social teaching in support for these positions, noting
that “every person is created in God's image” and Pope Francis'
statement that “where there is suffering, Christ is present. We cannot
turn our back on situations of great suffering.”
In August, the U.S. agreed to accept 2,000 refugees for resettlement;
according to the International Rescue Committee, fewer than 100 have
been resettled so far.
Bishop Elizondo called on the senators to “meaningfully increase U.S. resettlement” to at least 15,000.
“The U.S. Catholic bishops and our affiliated agencies stand ready to assist you in this effort,” Bishop Elizondo said.
He also noted that immigration law includes anti-terrorism provisions
that are “overly broad” and bar applicants who have in any way supported
Syrian rebel groups, even those who are moderates rather than
Islamists, urging that Congress allow for case-by-case exemptions to
The bishop also pointed out that Syrian minority groups, including Christians, are facing particular difficulties.
“These are among the most ancient and venerable Christian communities in
the world that have a history of peaceful coexistence with their Muslim
neighbors. They long to remain in Syria.”
The Syrian conflict began when demonstrations sprang up nationwide on
March 15, 2011 protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president
and leader the country's Ba'ath Party.
In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters.
The war is now being fought among the Syrian regime and a number of rebel groups, including moderates, Islamists, and Kurds.