How to Help Syrian Refugees in Chicago
The Syrian refugee crisis is one of the most tragic humanitarian issues of our time. Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, 6.1 million Syrians have been displaced, and another 4.8 million have become refugees. In all, roughly 11 million people have been killed or forced to flee their homes—equating to about half of the country’s pre-war population.
The escalating situation on the other side of the world has left many Chicagoans wondering what they can do to help Syrian families whose lives have been torn apart by the war. Currently, 135 Syrian refugee families have been resettled in Chicago, which is a drop in the bucket in terms of the total number of people who have been displaced. Nevertheless, the resettlement of refugees from Syria and beyond is a life-changing (and potentially life-saving) act.
We spoke to Syrian Community Network founder and executive director Suzanne Akhras Sahloul about what everyday Chicagoans can do to help these families and aid the millions of others who are still seeking aid. Here are her suggestions:
Apply to adopt a refugee family
Applying for refugee status is no easy task, and neither is resettling in a new country or city. You can make that process easier for a refugee family by applying to “adopt” a family through the Syrian Community Network. Local refugee resettlement programs already assist families with housing, food and work transitions, but Chicagoans are still needed to assist resettled refugees with transportation, schoolwork and other day-to-day tasks. If accepted, volunteers must be available on a regular basis and commit to the program for at least six months.
Become a mentor for a teen refugee
GirlForward, a Chicago-based organization that’s dedicated to helping teenage girls who have been displaced by conflict and persecution, is a great organization to volunteer with, says Sahloul. Volunteers will be paired with a high school girl to discuss school, relationships, careers and to engage in fun activities together.
Provide employment opportunities to Syrian families
Maintaining financial stability is one of the most difficult aspects for resettled refugees. World Relief Chicago provides pre-employment screenings and transportation for companies that hire local refugees. Syrian Community Network is also hosting a job fair in March to connect resettled refugees to local employers. Consider pushing your company to get involved with these organizations.
Host resettled Syrian families on holidays
Welcoming a Syrian family into your home—even just for one day—can make a huge impact, says Sahloul. Whether it’s hosting a Mother’s Day brunch or a picnic during the summer,going the extra mile to welcome a Syrian family to Chicago can go a long way in bridging the social gap that stands between refugees and the communities that they enter.