As families fleeing violence, hunger, poverty and lack of security continue to arrive in Europe, the world is witnessing the most severe refugee crisis since World War II, according to the U.N. Thousands of people, mostly from the Middle East, are crossing the Mediterranean Sea every day as they make their way to Western Europe.

Khaled (no last name given), an electrician from Aleppo, Syria, fled with his wife and two children when their home was destroyed during bombings in their city. Previously they had migrated from region to region within Syria but left for Europe when they believed there was no longer a safe area in their country.

After turning all of their possessions into cash, they traveled for 25 days, which included a bus through Turkey and a three-day walk through Serbia before reaching the Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary. The family is headed for Germany, where they hope to resettle with Khaled’s sister.

It is expected that 800,000 people will seek refuge in Europe by the end of 2015, a dramatic increase from years past. While this number may seem high, it is only a fraction of the 9 million Syrians who are internally displaced or living in camps in Syria’s neighboring countries, said Cindy Halmarson, ELCA area program director for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Through Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), the ELCA is working with global companion churches and international partners to assist those who have been displaced due to the conflict.

LDR provided $5,000 to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary (ELCH) to distribute hot meals, clothes and blankets to refugees at train stations. Through an appeal from ACT Alliance, the ELCA also provided $50,000 to Hungarian Interchurch Aid to distribute food, blankets and other essentials.

While Tamás Fabiny, bishop of the ELCH, has been critical of the Hungarian government’s processes regarding the arriving refugees, he said the church has the capacity to show compassion. “Although the past few weeks have been full of hardship and painful experiences, we have also seen examples of resourceful love,” Fabiny said.

In Serbia, LDR provided $55,000 to Church World Service, which is distributing food, water, winter supplies and infant care items to refugees, and $5,000 to the Asylum Protection Center, which is providing psychosocial and legal support to asylum-seekers.

In addition to caring for those who have fled to Europe, the ELCA is assisting those who are displaced closer to home by committing $50,000 to the Lutheran World Federation to support Syrian refugees in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan.

“We want to help where we already have partners in Jordan because that will enable people to stay where they are already settled rather than make the dangerous journey,” Halmarson said.

Winter will bring more travel challenges and increased humanitarian needs, as refugees have left home with few personal belongings and have no shelter or proper attire for cold-weather conditions.

While European Union leaders continue to make decisions on how and where to settle the influx of refugees, Halmarson said the ELCA will continue to assist those who are displaced. “We are providing lifesaving support through our partners to ensure basic needs are met, but the world needs to work for resolution of the conflict in Syria because until that is settled, people don’t feel safe at home,” she said.

Megan Brandsrud
Brandsrud is an associate editor of Living Lutheran.

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