HIAS’ response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Syrian refugeesA brutal, multi-year civil war in Syria has created 4.9 million refugees, left 6.6 million internally displaced within the country, and prompted nearly 250,000 others to flee and seek asylum elsewhere according to the latest UNHCR Global Trends Report.

The vast majority of these refugees have fled to nearby countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, where they remain to this day. However, the ongoing crisis has also driven thousands of families to make perilous journeys across the Mediterranean by boat in search of safety in Europe. Often, they are forced to make this journey in order to access critical needs like healthcare or education for their children.

HIAS works on multiple fronts to protect Syrian refugees, providing urgent legal services to refugees and asylum seekers, supporting resettlement in the U.S. or other safe havens, and galvanizing the U.S. government to increase support for Syrian refugee resettlement and the larger humanitarian crisis. HIAS also works closely with Jewish communities throughout the country to advocate for increased U.S. support for resettlement, as well as help create welcoming communities to ensure that resettlement will be successful. 

Working Internationally to Protect and Support Syrian Refugees

HIAS provides lifesaving protection and legal services for Syrian refugees in Greece and in the Middle East, with legal, livelihoods and protection experts continuously advocating for protection needs and ensuring that all displaced people are treated with dignity.

  • In Greece: There are close to 60,000 refugees who fled to Greece, the majority of whom have fled war-torn Syria, but also Iraq and Afghanistan. Most have survived serious trauma, both in their home countries and during the often deadly sea crossings to Greece. HIAS is currently working in the Kara Tepe and Moria refugee camps on the island of Lesvos, helping to register newly arrived refugees, and providing legal representation during "admissibility" hearings, the asylum process and family reunification procedures. HIAS also conducts legal orientation sessions for refugees, providing them with the information they need to navigate complicated asylum and migration procedures. Working closely with lawyers, civil society and humanitarian agencies, HIAS’ activities are also building the infrastructure and capacity of the refugee protection sector in Greece.
  • In Turkey and Egypt: HIAS Legal Resettlement teams are supporting the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR’s) global resettlement work of Syrian refugees to a third country, providing protection for particularly vulnerable cases. For many of these refugees, resettlement to a welcoming nation is the only viable option, and HIAS’ deep expertise in this field helps to provide lifesaving pathways to safety, treatment, and care. In Spring 2016, HIAS experts worked in Ankara, Turkey to provide support for the resettlement of Syrian refugees to Europe and the United States. At present, the team is supporting UNHCR’s work in Cairo, Egypt, where they are interviewing and drafting cases for Syrian refugees. HIAS Legal Resettlement experts play an integral role for UNHCR’s resettlement operations in Cairo and its activities to refer Syrian refugees who have been identified as in urgent need of resettlement.

U.S.-Based Programs to Resettle and Integrate Syrian Refugees

As one of the oldest resettlement organizations in the United States, HIAS uses its extensive expertise to resettle refugees from war-torn countries, helping them integrate to their new homes. HIAS is currently working with Jewish and other social service partners in 11 states and 24 cities throughout the country to support resettlement of the world’s most vulnerable refugees, including those from Syria. This has included the resettlement of over 600 families from Syria in just the last 12 months. Examples of some of our creative and groundbreaking community efforts include:

  • In Charlotte, North Carolina: HIAS together with the Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency is piloting an innovative program to improve the resettlement process for Syrian refugees, focusing on creating a welcoming environment in the communities where Syrians are being resettled and supporting increased interfaith relations. Partnering with schools, law enforcement, medical providers, financial institutions, public transit authorities, faith-based institutions, and local businesses, this initiative works with a range of community and local institutions to help prepare communities to truly integrate refugees into their society. This includes understanding the specific needs of Syrian refugees, the crises and traumas that drove them to flee their homelands as well as differences in cultural and traditional values.
  • In Clearwater Florida: HIAS is partnering with the Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Children’s Services in another pilot program to support successful Syrian refugee resettlement through a range of activities including resource development, bridging cultural differences, and educating the community about their potential contributions to the community. The program also works closely with the Council on Islamic Relations and other faith based organizations.

Engaging the Jewish Community 

Led by our multi-dimensional Community Engagement team, HIAS is working at the local level to provide an array of social justice activities filtered through the lens of the Jewish teachings and values that underlie HIAS’ mission. This dynamic program serves as a central hub of information, and provides rich opportunities for activism, advocacy, and voluntarism for anyone who feels called to action by the global refugee crisis and its potent connection to Jewish history and values.

HIAS also conducts educational programs and creates teaching materials to prepare participants to undertake these activities, and to inform those who are simply curious to learn more about a crisis that has made headlines for many months. In the last year, our grassroots campaigns engaged 20,000 American Jews in our advocacy to encourage American policymakers to step up the nation’s commitment to be a haven for refugees fleeing persecution and to exert much-needed leadership in the face of the current refugee crisis. HIAS’ 2015-6 petition calling on the President to resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. garnered more than 16,000 signatures, and inspired more than 7,000 people to contact their members of Congress. HIAS partnered with the Religious Action Center (RAC) of the Union of Reform Judaism to distribute the petition to their constituency of 900+ congregations.

Supporting Syrian Refugees Through Advocacy 

Through our global Advocacy efforts, HIAS has called attention to the plight of Syrian refugees. Together with Refugee Council USA (RCUSA) partner organizations, HIAS has urged the U.S. government to raise the annual ceiling for refugee admission, increase humanitarian funding for the Syrian refugee crisis and make it a top priority to resolve the regional crisis. HIAS regularly meets with congressional offices to encourage increased refugee resettlement to the U.S., including Syrian refugees. HIAS educates lawmakers about refugee resettlement in order to counteract widespread fear that resettling Syrians means admitting extremists into the U.S. Together with coalition partners, HIAS emphasizes the need to provide assistance to vulnerable Syrians as well as uphold security procedures to prevent dangerous people from entering the country.

How Can I Help?

Join the Jewish response to the refugee crisis. Learn how you can help here.