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HIAS and Islamic Relief USA Partner to Bring Legal Protection to Refugees in Greece

SILVER SPRING, Md.—In 2015, Greece emerged as the most visible focal point of the largest global refugee crisis since World War II. More than a million refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries in crisis passed through Greece in 2015 and 2016. Some 60,000 refugees remain in the European nation. In 2017, nearly 3,000 refugees arrived in Greece each month.

In response to the growing humanitarian and legal challenges facing the refugee population there, HIAS, the global Jewish nonprofit that protects refugees, and Islamic Relief USA, the U.S. arm of the humanitarian assistance and advocacy organization, today announced a joint initiative to provide legal services to refugees in Greece in 2018.

"Islamic Relief USA is honored to be partnering with such an esteemed and effective organization like HIAS to protect refugees who are in great need of assistance,” said IRUSA President Anwar Khan. “Our shared values have always been to help some of the most vulnerable populations around the world. With recent incidents of people not gaining access to essential services, and many having their rights violated, we will work to put a stop to these disturbing trends and promote the legal rights of all refugees."

In Athens and on the island of Lesvos, this interfaith partnership will ensure that the most vulnerable refugees in Greece benefit from legal assistance, strategic litigation, and advocacy to advance refugee rights. The HIAS-IRUSA partnership will help refugees navigate the constantly changing asylum procedures, increasing limitations on movement and employment opportunities, lack of police protection, and inadequate medical and mental health services that are available to them.

“HIAS is incredibly appreciative of Islamic Relief USA’s partnership,” said Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS. “Acting on the tenets of our faiths and historical experiences, HIAS and IRUSA are uniquely positioned to address together the mounting risks faced by refugees in Greece, and potentially offer a valuable model for similar joint efforts.”  

HIAS first launched a program for refugees in Lesvos in 2016 to offer direct, individual legal representation to refugees in Greece. In 2017, the team achieved a precedent-setting ruling recognizing the right of a Syrian refugee and a Syrian asylum seeker to legally marry. This new and timely collaboration made possible by Islamic Relief USA, with the generous support of HIAS donors, will expand the capacity and impact of the legal team in Greece led by Vassilis Kerasiotis.

“This powerful alliance between Jews and Muslims demonstrates our shared commitment to refugees,” said HIAS Board Member Sandra Spinner. “In this time of divisiveness, I am pleased that we have come together to address the critical needs of the refugees in Greece.”

HIAS and IRUSA have been collaborating to advance refugee rights for several years. In June 2017, IRUSA honored HIAS with its Courage Award. Upon accepting the award in Washington, D.C., Hetfield noted, “All the Abrahamic faiths are united by the value of hospitality and welcoming the stranger as ourselves, for we were all once strangers in a strange land.”

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