One million more Syrians expected to abandon their homes by Christmas

David Miliband is not a nun. But his message is one that many women religious live out daily.

Miliband, the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and a former British foreign secretary, has a column in TIME magazine saying that while his organization and many others will continue to aid refugees from Syria fleeing to Europe and elsewhere, the world needs to address the problem actually causing the mass migration:

The conflict in Syria has wrought a terrible toll on the population. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and nearly eight million internally displaced. Civilians and civilian infrastructure are deliberately and wantonly targeted. In a country where every second person needs aid, belligerents, by means ranging from bureaucracy to besiegement, are obstructing almost five million people’s access to food, water and medicine, in flagrant violation of successive U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Difficult as it is to imagine, the situation has in recent months deteriorated even further. Fighting — barrel bombs, shells, rocket and mortar attacks — has intensified in almost every governorate. The U.N. predicts that a million more Syrians will abandon their homes by Christmas unless it abates. Despite the spiraling needs in the country, which have grown 12-fold since the beginning of the conflict, the U.N.’s humanitarian appeal for Syria for 2015 is just one-third funded, 12 weeks from the year’s end.

Miliband notes that even calling it the “European refugee crisis” is misleading, since the real crisis is in Syria. And focusing on Europe diverts attention from the problem to its symptoms — a situation he doesn’t see changing in the near future.

“Ebbing international interest and diplomatic engagement give Syrians little cause to believe that the conflict will be resolved in the near future, or its long-term effects readily addressed. Russia’s intervention heightens rather than tempers the uncertainty,” he writes.

Of course, the symptoms still need to be addressed: The thousands of people pouring into Europe daily and the millions already sheltering in Syria’s neighbors have created the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

“Addressing it and the insecurity that is forcing Syrians onto Europe-bound boats requires international investment of the scale and ambition that characterized American support for Europe in the aftermath of [World War II] — a Marshall Plan for the Middle East,” he writes.

But all of this will be of little avail as long as the civil war in Syria continues to rage.

How you can help

Catholic Relief Services has put together a list of seven things you can do to help the Syrian refugee crisis. CRS is working with church partners in Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Serbia and is providing more than 700,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq with food, water, shelter, medical and legal care:

No. 1 is to educate yourself and learn more about what is causing people to flee their homes, and gives a list of resources to help you do that.

No. 2 is to donate (You knew it was coming), but the need is great, and 90 percent of donations to CRS go directly to people in need.

No. 3 is to fundraise, and it shows you how to set up a fundraising page of your own.

No. 4 is just as important as the others, but so often neglected: advocate. I’ve heard over and over and over from people in the know that calls to members of Congress have a big impact, and yet people rarely pick up the phone and do it. How much difference do they make? I’ve heard that as few as seven calls will push an issue to the forefront and that 20 calls are regarded as something that absolutely must be addressed.

Don’t want to talk to a live person? Call after hours and leave a message — they count just the same.

The No. 5 thing you can do is spread the message on social media; CRS gives you a photo to share of beautiful refugee children noting that 60 million people worldwide have been driven from their homes.

No. 6 is to pray — another thing far too easy to skip over.

Finally, No. 7 is to support refugees here in the United States. Contact your local Catholic Charities and they’ll be more than happy to tell you how you can lend a hand.

Prevention the best medicine

Jesuit Refugee Service also seeks to address root causes, and also one of the basic needs that is among the first lost and hardest to repair during a crisis: Education.

The fundamental right of children to education is most at risk during emergencies. Humanitarian crises — including wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and protracted conflict — disrupt education, delay access, and contribute to higher dropout and lower completion rates. When such emergencies result in displacement, the lack of access to quality education can have profound implications for the ability of affected communities to recover and thrive.

Education not only creates a culture of peace, JRS says, but creates community leaders for when refugees return home.

Education also gives stability and hope to people who have lost everything and whose world is filled with turmoil.

"I was born in war, I went to school during war, I got married during war, I raised my six children during war and now I am growing old and raising grandchildren in war. I am so sick of war," Lucia, 56, told JRS officials at their compound in Maban, South Sudan.

One teacher notes that if their grandparents had been educated and had educated their children, they wouldn’t be refugees today.

Want to stop a refugee crisis before it begins? Start with education.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]

Check out the latest from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious 2018.