By Bailey Neel
The tragedy and turmoil has been broadcast around the globe.
Millions of Syrians have fled their country because civil war has created an uninhabitable place of violence and danger. More than a third of the population has abandoned the country in hopes of finding something better beyond the borders.
Unfortunately for these refugees, in lieu of recent terror attacks in Paris, many states across America are choosing to close their borders to outsiders. Fear that terrorism may enter the country through refugee channels has spread, and state governments are erring on the side of caution. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, along with 30 other governors across the country, say that Syrian refugees are too big a risk right now. Ricketts asked that resettlement agencies such as Lutheran Family Services and Catholic Social Services halt their efforts to bring Syrian refugees into Nebraska.
This comes after refugee agencies and religious centers spent months preparing for an influx of Syrians, gathering donations and organizing potential housing.
“They are in this situation through no fault of their own, but because their country does not have their best interest at heart,” said Rev. Eric Elnes of Countryside Community Church in Omaha.
Elnes and other religious leaders in the Omaha area are doing what they can to help the displaced people, but as of now, their efforts remain at a preliminary stage.
“The refugees just barely were approved in October,” Lacey Studnicka said. Studnicka is the program development officer with Lutheran Family Services, a refugee resettlement agency. “They wouldn’t have been arriving for about nine months anyway and with everything going on, it could be more than that. It’s a very delicate situation at the moment.”
The waiting game has people asking what they can do to help. Many organizations know that until the government approves the Syrian refugee status, agencies are limited in how they can aid them.
“We see the reports on the news and we see how urgent the need is, but now we also see some potential problems,” Elnes said. “We are hoping the U.S. and other countries as well can figure out the safest way to approach the refugee situation.”
For now, Lutheran Family Services has released a statement saying that they will respect Governor Ricketts’ request to not pursue Syrian refugees until they are given adequate time to assess security concerns.
“When you hear of the horrible things that happened in Paris and that are happening in the Middle East, fear is the reaction that is to be expected,” said Syed Mohiuddin, president of the American Muslim Institute in Omaha. He worries that these fears will leave Syrian families stranded in refugee camps throughout Europe.
“I hope that Nebraska is far better than other states and that eventually they will allow them to come in,” he said.
In the meantime, he says they will continue to do what they can and be ready for if and when they are called upon to help. Other religious centers are doing the same.
“We have provided the congregation the estimated costs of adopting a refugee family,” said Scott Littky, program director at Omaha’s Temple Israel. “And we have informed them of ways they can donate and organizations they can trust to get their donations to the people who need them.”
Littky says he would not be surprised if people from the Jewish congregation might be asked to house a family or two once refugees start arriving.
“All of our members are very open to helping people, regardless of their faith.”
Part of the reason for that is because they are a part of Omaha’s Tri-Faith Initiative, an organization with members of Islamic, Christian and Jewish faiths.
Temple Israel, Countryside Community Church and the American Muslim Institute are not only neighbors but they also also work together on a number of projects and causes.
“It’s not uncommon to see people of different faiths working together,” Elnes said. “Especially when it’s for a purpose that we can all get behind.”
All three of the Abrahamic religions have core values steeped in hospitality and kindness to strangers, which is something they hope to show refugee families once they begin arriving.
The Islamic Center of Omaha has taken up a collection at its Friday prayer services, president Mohammed Rasheed said. Rasheed and Mohiuddin say they have already been helping Syrian families that have made their way into the United States. These people are asylum seekers rather than refugees because they have not been processed the same way as refugees and had the means to come into the country without help. However, now that they are here, many of them still lack the basic necessities. Since most of the Syrian people are Muslim, the Islamic Center of Omaha will try to help them feel more at home.
“It has been very good for our family to be able to know others here that can help us,” one Syrian man said. He asked not to be named out of concern for the well being of his family.
He came to the U.S. a little over a year ago with his wife, who was pregnant at the time, seeking safe haven. Because of the crisis at home, they cannot return. But because they did not come to the U.S. through the refugee program, they are not eligible for citizenship. And now they have a baby to worry about as well.
“We are stuck,” he said. “We wait and see if they will let us stay.”
He is disheartened that some states have chosen to close their borders to refugees, but he says he understands people’s fears. He said he hopes that people will realize not all Muslims are terrorists and all of the people he knows in Syria hate terrorism just as much as people in America.