Displacement and Family Separation for Syrian Refugee Children

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According to the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the world is facing the biggest refugee crisis since WWII, having surpassed 50 million people who have been forced to leave their homes as refugees, as asylum seekers, or as internally displaced persons (IDPs) within their home countries. This massive increase is driven largely by the civil war in Syria, which will reach the five-year mark in a few months. According to World Vision, “The crisis in Syria affects more than 12 million people—more than those affected by Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, and the Indian Ocean tsunami combined.” Of Syrians who have crossed the border and become refugees, 4 million are children, all having left school and their future educations behind. Over 12,000 children have died among the 240,000 people killed in the conflict, with a million people wounded and disabled. Fighters have coerced or forced children to participate in the conflict itself.

Separation from families takes on different forms for Syrian children. Many are separated from parents who have left in search of work or to relocate, such as in the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Others have left their children behind to try to make their way to Europe to resettle in a stable country that can offer them official welcome and support. The UNHCR states that more than 70,000 Syrian refugee families live without their fathers, and thousands of refugee children are separated from both parents. This separation can cause a breakdown in family structure and impact children and families not only in economic ways, but emotionally as well. Many children have endured injuries and physical trauma, illness due to interrupted preventative healthcare, psychological trauma, and impediments to their spiritual development.

Faith to Action seeks to create awareness and to help our constituents know what tangible steps they can take to promote meaningful change in the lives of vulnerable children and support solutions that provide relief and strengthen families. Even for those who have worked in international relief or refugee resettlement in the United States, this is an alarming situation that can generate feelings of paralysis. Fortunately, in this bleak picture of life for these vulnerable children, many dedicated experts around the world are working to keep children safe, helping prevent family separation for refugee families fleeing Syria, and intervening to strengthen and reunify families where separation has occurred. Although many organizations are helping respond to the separation of children and families, this article highlights the work of three organizations.

Two organizations from Faith to Action’s Leadership Council, World Vision International and Bethany Christian Services, are intimately involved with the global refugee crisis, at each end of the spectrum. World Vision International works with refugees around the world and has been focusing on providing support to Syrians across the Middle East region. In Lebanon, one of the most heavily burdened countries hosting refugees in the Middle East, UNHCR estimates that in 2015 there were over 1.3 million Syrian refugees, a staggering figure given that Lebanon’s population is only around 4.5 million. Because child labor is directly linked to the basic survival of refugee families, World Vision has intervened to help children return to their classrooms while also supporting opportunities for children to earn income for their families after school. In Jordan, with World Vision’s support, 10-year old Absi has gone from working 12-hour days at a parking lot to attending World Vision’s remedial school, and much shorter hours after school earning even more than what he was making before. World Vision has also set up Children Centers that provide Syrian children with a safe environment for play and learning, with trained professionals to care for their emotional and psychosocial needs, restoring a small piece of their lost childhood.

Bethany Christian Services provides refugees with a warm welcome upon their arrival in the United States. They specialize in resettlement services, as well as refugee foster care for separated children. Their work provides ways for the average American to step into the life of a refugee and become a meaningful part of the journey to finding healing and wholeness in a new home in the United States. Volunteers offer tangible support through acclamation services—helping individuals and families get settled into their new life and home. This can include teaching refugees how to shop for groceries and take the bus, driving them to medical appointments, helping with language learning, advice with job applications, and anything else they may need. An often unspoken need is for friends and relationship, as refugees who develop a relational support network are better able to face the challenges of their new life after resettlement. Bethany Christian Services and Church World Service share more about responding to the Syrian refugee crisis and provide some practical ways for Christians to respond in this recent podcast.

In Syria, education systems have been completely destroyed within the country and, UNICEF notes, “The war reversed 10 years of progress in education for Syrian children.” Questscope aims to “put the last, first,” by providing Syrian children who have found refuge there with valuable access to education. In their decades of experience working in Jordan as a locally founded organization, they know that “For young persons living through a war, school is often their only link to normality. School provides structure, routine, and a community to help share their burdens. When that link doesn’t exist, they lose two chances: one for a hopeful future and another one for a peaceful present.” To help provide this link to normality, they run an alternative education program with teachers and facilitators trained to respond to children who have experienced trauma.

The work of these organizations illustrates ways people can share the love of God with orphans and vulnerable children who bear the scars of displacement and family separation and are examples of best practices addressing family separation in this global refugee crisis. If you or your church community are looking to offer the support that so many refugees are desperately seeking, we recommend supporting their work. Another way to engage in support is to use this prayer resource from World Relief to help guide your prayers for vulnerable children and their families.