(PNS) The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has joined more than 50 faith groups and other human rights organizations urging the U.S. government to extend and redesignate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syrians currently living and working legally in the country. The Department of Homeland Security is expected to make a decision about the future of TPS by the end of the month.
In a letter to DHS, advocates argue the Syrian guests have become productive members of society. “Syrian TPS recipients include innovative entrepreneurs, dedicated teachers, and hardworking employees who contribute directly to our country’s economy, enrich our national fabric, and reflect positively on our diverse social heritage.”
DHS first designated Syria for TPS in 2012 in response to mounting humanitarian crises and human rights abuses. The department made note of the Syrian government’s excessive use of force, torture and deaths of thousands of Syrians as a reaction to peaceful protests.
“We urge you to act yet again to honor our government’s commitment to protecting the world’s most vulnerable populations, in a move that is consistent with our national interests and in line with our government’s assessments about Syria,” the letter reads.
The United Nations estimates more than 500,000 Syrians have been killed since the war broke out seven years ago, while 5.5 million have become registered refugees. Another 6 million are believed to be internally displaced.
The letter says it is unlikely that those returning to the war-torn region can escape the bombings, sieges or chemical weapons attacks and those who have sought refuge in other countries, will not receive a warm welcome if they are returned.
“The government has routinely arrested dissidents and former citizens with no known political affiliation who attempted to return to the country after years or even decades of self-imposed exile,” the letter states. “Anecdotes from the ground further confirm that the Syrian government has been arresting individuals perceived to be of fighting age, as well as forcibly recruiting child soldiers.”
The organizations say that Syrians returning to their country will also face hardships in securing food, water and electricity, as well as returning to their original homes. “The State Department reports that the ‘humanitarian needs inside Syria continue to outpace the international response, a reality that is starkly demonstrated by the fast that the UN humanitarian response plan for Syria is only 51 percent funded.”
The letter argues that extension or reinstatement of TPS will ensure that Syrians “have a safe, legal place to reside until the situation in Syria stabilizes.”
PC(USA) staff have made several trips to the region including a visit to Homs last year. At the time, much of the city was still in ruins with small signs of restoration and attempts by many to rebuild their lives.
by Rick Jones, Presbyterian News Service