The Rev. Jack Amick, International Disaster Response executive for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), updated Bishop Peggy Johnson this week on the agency’s response to the throngs of refugees and displaced persons surviving and escaping war, terrorism and devastation in Syria and Iraq.
While thousands have found refuge across their borders in Lebanon and Turkey, more than 34,000 migrants have made harrowing treks toward Austria, Germany, Greece and other European countries in recent weeks. The United Nations estimates over 366,000 have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe this year, and at least 2,800 have died or disappeared during the journey.
“We are working to alleviate suffering for these people by providing food, water, clothing, household items, and improved places for children to learn and play,” Amick reported, citing nearly $2 million in grants provided through local and international relief partners. “We expect to approve additional projects during the last quarter of 2015.”
UMCOR began two projects this year to respond to mass migration into Europe. It is part of a larger effort to address “human suffering that seems to dominate certain migration corridors,” Amick wrote, “particularly the corridor into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa, and the corridor into the US from Central America.
Aiding families in Italy, Greece through partners
He identified food assistance provided to 50 migrant/refugee families in Italy, especially Sicily, through an agency referred to UMCOR by the Methodist Church of Italy. And by partnering with Global Medic, the agency is providing food and hygiene kits to about 750 migrant/refugee families newly arrived in economically strapped Greece, which is “unable to provide access to even the most basic services including healthcare, shelter or food,” said Amick.
“Although reception centers have been established in an attempt to house refugees,” he explained, “living conditions are dire, with severe overcrowding causing poor hygiene conditions, accompanied by a lack of food. In addition, only a fraction of those in need are actually living within formal refugee centers due to the sheer volume of incoming migrants. Many families sleep outdoors in public spaces or in abandoned buildings without electricity or running water.
“By May 2015, more than 42,000 refugees had arrived by sea in Greece, and, at the time this grant was approved, more than 1,000 additional arrive each day. Among these migrants 84 percent are from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and are fleeing conflict situations. Migrants are fleeing a variety of human rights abuses including war and extreme violence in their home countries–risking their lives traveling by sea in small, overcrowded rubber dinghies in order to do so. This grant of $50,000 will care for approximately 3,750 people who have landed on the islands of Kos and Lesbos.
Amick thanked Bishop Johnson for her concern about the people fleeing conflict in Syria and asked her to encourage churches in her Philadelphia Episcopal Area to “keep these vulnerable people in prayer.” Anyone who wants to support UMCOR’s work in response to this refugee crisis and other disasters is urged to give to the International Disaster Response Advance, #982450.
Amick also composed A PRAYER FOR THE MIGRANT CRISIS calling for solidarity with those fleeing conflict and migrating to Europe and other parts of the world. It was published in the Sept. 9 issue of UMCOR Hotline
Also, see Linda Bloom’s Sept. 2 story for UM News Service, “Coping with Europe’s Migration Crisis”
Church & Society calls for welcoming more refugees to U.S.
And for a political advocacy response, Bill Mefford, Director of Civil & Human Rights at the General Board of Church & Society, urges United Methodists to sign a petition now to demand the U.S. increase its resettlement of Syrian refugees.
“Watching Syrian refugees stream into Europe has been heart-breaking,” he writes. “But I am glad to say there is something we can do right now. It is clear that the United States must respond with leadership.
“The U.S. has only resettled 1,517 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the conflict,” Mefford asserts. “We can do MUCH better. Countries like Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan are hosting millions of Syrian refugees. The United States can and should resettle at least 100,000 Syrian refugees, plus increase our total resettlement commitment from 70,000 to 100,000 refugees from all parts of the world.”
Mefford calls for a massive, immediate response to increase U.S. commitment to welcoming Syrian refugees. “We need 100,000 signatures before Sept. 30 to require a response from President Obama. Also, call the White House at (202) 456-1111 and share this alert on your social media.”
By John Coleman
Eastern PA Communications Director