IECS Report 1: The Christians of the Middle East and the Current Refugee Crisis

Below is the introduction to an article reporting on Syrian Refugees and Christians of the Middle East. Please use the links to read the full article and visit the host site.

Report on Syrian Refugees Host Site (Dutch)
Link to full article (PDF English)

The Institute of Eastern Christian Studies – Report 1
The Christians of the Middle East and the current refugee crisis
December 2015, Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, Nijmegen

Introduction
Over the last months, the number of Christians among the refugees that
arrived in Europe in general and in the Netherlands in particular has grown
considerably. This is not surprising, considering the fact that many Christians are in the middle of the current conflict; they are sometimes targeted directly and are very often affected indirectly. This first IECS Report seeks to shed some light on the particular migration patterns of the Christians during the current crisis. It is important to understand these patterns when thinking of ways to deal with the current crisis and when anticipating its long-term effects, in the Middle East and in the host countries in Europe.

The majority of the refugees from the Middle East that have tried to reach Europe with the help of smugglers over the past year are people that already had been displaced in the region for a longer of shorter period. Among them are people who were displaced in the early stages of the war, often from the regions where fighting broke out between government troops and opposition groups (some of which Islamist, others not). Others were fleeing because of their own or their family’s immediate involvement with the liberal non-violent opposition, fearing imprisonment or worse, or avoiding being captured again after a period spent in prison. Since the middle of 2014, these earlier refugees were joined by people fleeing the ISIS-dominated areas in northeastern Syria and northern Iraq.

These refugees fled first to safe areas in neighboring countries, mostly Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt. In Jordan and Syria refugee camps run by the UNHRC, in cooperation with NGO’s, such as the Red Cross and Médecins sans Frontières, have hosted these refugees as far as possible, while in Lebanon and Egypt these organization offer assistance to refugees not in camps. These refugees largely relied on their own resources, rented their own places, moved in with family, squatted abandoned buildings, or built their own temporary shelters on empty plots. In all of these cases, be it the official camps or the informal housing, the conditions have continuously deteriorated over the last couple of years. The NGO’s had to manage with less and less funds per person to take care of, because of budget cuts on the side of the donors in the West, due to the increasing number of persons in need of support and due to conflicts elsewhere in the world that also require funds and efforts. Informal housing and general living in all of the neighboring
countries have become more and more expensive; educational possibilities for children and young people are scarce, and the local job market is either mostly closed to non-citizens or open in low-paid informal and unprotected jobs, always risking abuse and arbitrary lay-offs. Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, who have taken up millions of Syrians and Iraqi’s, for different reasons and under different circumstances, are extremely hesitant to enable the refugees to settle and to acquire full citizenship in these countries.

All of this takes place against the backdrop of the ongoing deterioration of the situation in Syria and Iraq, with little prospect of improvement in the near future. Thus one can understand why more and more people, especially those with children, choose to spend the little money that is left after years of living abroad in trying to find a better future somewhere else. It is mostly these people, who have been on the move already for a couple of years, and may have even eked out some meager existence in one of the neighboring
countries, that are tempted to take the opportunity to come to Europe in order to secure a better future for themselves and for their children.

For more information on the topic of this report,
contact the office (secretariaat@ivoc.ru.nl; tel.: +31 24 361 56 03), or
the director, Prof. Dr. Heleen Murre-van den Berg
hlmvandenberg@ivoc.ru.nl. See further ru.nl/ivoc and @IvOCNijmegen.

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