Constantine (Dean) Argiris is a lifelong Orthodox Christian from the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago who has devoted his time to raising awareness of the 1915-1922 Asia Minor Genocide. His works on the Greek economic crisis have been published in international Greek diaspora news media outlets. Professionally, he works in the political scene as a Staff Assistant to a Chicago Alderman. Previously, he worked as a party-paid staffer for the Illinois Senate, a Regional Field Director for President Obama's "Organizing for America" and has run a number of federal and state level political campaigns as an independent consultant.
Over the past two weeks, the name Aylan Kurdi has faded into the recesses of our minds. The image of the toddler’s body, washed up on the shores of Turkey, has faded to a recent memory. His image was replaced with that of a Hungarian reporter deliberately tripping a refugee carrying a child. Each week seems to have a “photo of the week” capturing the gravity of the situation, but none seem to trigger the compassion required. This week, it’s refugees in life vests, floating in the water as another rickety boat capsizes.
All indications suggest the situation is only going to get worse as summer gives way to fall and, with that, heavier seas.
According to the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights, of the 4.1 million Syrians affected by the ongoing crisis, over 210,000 have died in the crisis overall. A separate organization, the International Organization for Migration, states that this year alone, 332,000 have sought asylum in Europe and over 2,500 have died in that pursuit.
The Syrian refugee crisis poses a moral dilemma for the world. Hungary has sealed off its border with Serbia. As of midnight last night, Austria has imposed new restrictions on its borders. This is in addition to the border restrictions enacted by Germany on Monday.
On the other hand, 10,000 Syrian refugees are bound for the United States. This is a far cry from the over 100,000 refugees taken in during the Vietnam War or the 250,000 taken in during the Second World War. More could be done.
Reasons for opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees vary but can be summarized in one of two arguments. The first is budgetary. Many argue that many countries, the United States included, cannot absorb the financial costs of relocating these refugees. Since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, in previous situations, such as the intake of Soviet Jews, the cost of relocating these refugees was made up through the new addition to the tax base. In other words, the income taxes paid by these new Americans paid made up for the cost of admitting them.
The second argument is the security issue. Many who are unfamiliar with the region operate under the assumption that these immigrants are all Muslim. Setting aside the faulty assumption that “If Muslin, Then bad,” Syria is one of the oldest Christian nations, with direct lineage to Saints Peter and Paul. Today, roughly 12% to 15% of Syrians are Christians. The Orthodox Christians in this area are part of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, under His Beatitude, Patriarch John X.
Aside from that, in regards to the United States, refugees undergo a rigorous security clearance process before being admitted into the United States. Information is collected by a Resettlement Support Center, an overseas processing entity that assists refugees in completing their applications for asylum in the United States. Their names are run through a system that communicates with Interpol and several terrorism screening databases. Certain applicants undergo a Security Advisory Opinion, which assesses an individual’s case for possible espionage and/or terrorism. These SAO applicants undergo an additional process in which their data, including names, fingerprints, and aliases are cross-referenced across a wide array of databases.
Many of these screenings were put in place after September 11th, 2001 and begin overseas. The final step is arriving at one of the five designated ports of entry where Customs and Border Protection will conduct a final security check before admittance.
So, why do I mention this?
Because we as Orthodox Christians must help. We are obligated to help. In response to the Syrian crisis, I see requests for money which can provide food and blankets. This helps when it comes to enduring the unendurable. It’s the momentary comfort on a cold winter night and the fleeting relief from malnourishment. However, dollars only go so far.
In the Parable of the Five Talents (Matthew 25:14 – 30), we are asked to put the gifts God gave us to good use. To quote the Thomas Nelson Publisher’s Orthodox Study Bible, “Idleness is a renunciation of God’s gift.” Those among us who specialize in International Law, for example, can come to the assistance of the refugees. We can help with all the needed documentation to insure their conformity to national requirements for admittance into various countries.
The Church can have conversations with legislative members or Government employees on the matter of Syrian refugees, so long as the discussion does not pertain to specific legislation. In other countries, the Church may not be as restricted in its ability to petition their governments.
We must remember Luke 14:15-24. Like the master who created a feast, we must seek to have our table full. If we find nothing but excuses from those invited, we must then invite “the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind.”
There are no gender, social, or ethnic differentiation in the eyes of God (Galatians 3:28). We must love everyone as we would expect to be loved (Matthew 22:39). If we are to be Disciples of Christ, than we must understand the cost associated with such and be equipped to pay it. Otherwise, we find ourselves morally bankrupted.
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