The Syrian conflict has been described as the largest humanitarian crisis in a generation. Almost half of Syria’s population have either sought sanctuary in another country or are internally displaced.
As neighbouring countries buckle under the weight of the mass exodus, thousands are undertaking a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to find hope and safety in Europe.
In a letter addressed to the Uniting Church community, UCA President Mr Stuart McMillan said he was both shocked and moved by the plight of refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq.
“The personal tragedies and struggles we see in the nightly news are heartbreaking. But they are just the tip of the iceberg. The scale of the humanitarian crisis that is occurring is truly overwhelming,” he said.
“Every day thousands of people are seeking refuge with little other than the clothes on their backs. They join more than four million who’ve fled this conflict in the last four years.”
The federal government announced this month that it will permanently resettle an additional 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq. However, this does not include the 17 Syrian asylum seekers who came to Australia by boat. They are currently detained on Manus Island and Nauru and can only be resettled in Papua New Guinea or Cambodia.
The Australian church community will play an integral role in helping the 12,000 new refugees adjust to life in their new home. Immigration minister Peter Dutton confirmed on Thursday that Australia has started processing 200 Syrian refugees. The first group are expected to be resettled in Australia by Christmas.
Mr McMillan encouraged congregation members to welcome Australia’s newest migrants through practical support.
“As we observe from a distance, we must remember that God values every human life. We mourn every life lost and pray for those who are suffering,” he said.
“Along with your prayers I ask that you do what you can to support. As Australians we are blessed to live in a prosperous country relatively free of armed conflict.”
Mr McMillan this week launched the Uniting Church Syrian Refugee Appeal. The appeal will support welcoming activities within the Uniting Church and provide assistance to UnitingCare services.
UnitingCare agencies offer a range of programs to support refugees, including accommodation assistance, casework support and basic living allowances.
“If you are able, please share God’s abundance by giving generously to the Uniting Church Syrian Refugee Appeal,” Mr McMillan said.
You can make a donation to the Syrian Refugee Appeal here.
Earlier this week, Mr McMillan and UnitingJustice director Rev Elenie Poulos joined 230 prominent Australians in signing the Citizens for Change on Asylum Seekers manifesto. The manifesto calls for immigration policies driven by humanitarian imperatives and envisions a country where asylum seekers are seen as an opportunity, rather than a problem.
The signatories also recommend increasing the yearly refugee intake from 13,750 to 30,000.
“It is time to restore our reputation as a kind and friendly people who embrace equality and value a fair go. Too many of us now wish to extend our hand to those in need and to do so in a way that makes us proud to be Australian,” the manifesto reads.
“We urge Australia to take a stronger, bolder, more humane approach to refugee laws in Australia, not only to uphold our status as a world-class leader of human rights, but to better represent who we are as a people.”
Image by UNHCR Photo Unit via Flickr.