HIAS’ response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Syrian refugeesA brutal, multi-year civil war in Syria has created more than 5 million refugees and left more than 6 million displaced within the country.

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, helping some of the most vulnerable start new lives 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 across the country to raise awareness, advocate for increased U.S. support for resettlement, and help create welcoming communities where refugee families can thrive. 

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, and our expert staff around the globe work to ensure that all displaced people are treated with dignity.

  • In Greece: HIAS is currently working on the island of Lesvos, helping to register newly arrived refugees, and providing legal representation through the asylum and family reunification processes. HIAS conducts legal orientation sessions for refugees, helping them navigate complicated asylum and migration procedures. Working closely with lawyers, civil society and humanitarian agencies, HIAS is also helping to build the infrastructure and capacity of the refugee protection sector in Greece.
  • In Egypt and Lebanon: HIAS staff are supporting the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) work to resettle particularly vulnerable Syrian refugees for whom a new life in a more welcoming country is the only viable option. In 2016, HIAS experts worked in Ankara, Turkey to provide support for the resettlement of Syrian refugees to Europe and the United States.

Resettling Syrian Refugees in the U.S.

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 into their new communities. HIAS works with Jewish and other social service partners in 12 states to resettle some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees, including over 1,200 Syrians since 2015. 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 

HIAS is mobilizing local Jewish communities to be powerful agents for social and political change for refugees. Through this work, over the course of the past year, the American Jewish community has emerged as one of the strongest and most visible constituencies in support of refugees.

We have signed more than 360 synagogues to our Welcome Campaign, creating a grassroots network for advocacy and volunteerism in more than 35 states. HIAS has also organized the voices of thousands of American Rabbis to speak out and insist that our country remain a safe haven for refugees. In early 2017, for example, a letter signed by more than 2000 Rabbis was mentioned on the floor of the United States Senate. HIAS-organized events and speaker tours, educational material and other resources help explain and contextualize the global refugee crisis and offer American Jews numerous opportunities to make a difference.

Supporting Syrian Refugees Through Advocacy 

Through our global advocacy efforts, HIAS calls attention to the plight of Syrian refugees. Together with partner organizations like Refugee Council USA, 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 that has driven so many Syrians from their homes.

In February 2017, in response to the Trump administration’s executive order attempting to severely scale back the U.S. resettlement program, HIAS brought suit in federal court on behalf of refugees.

HIAS regularly meets with congressional offices to encourage increased refugee resettlement to the U.S., including Syrian refugees and works to educate policymakers about refugee resettlement. 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.