Though our calendars tell us that “winter” won’t officially set in for another week, for many, the cold — and the dangerous risks it brings — are already real.
This is especially true for millions of refugees in Syria, where many families are homeless or living in temporary shelters, and still others remain completely cut off from supplies as the temperatures continue to drop.
“I burn plastic and cardboard in order to get some warmth during the winter. We barely survive here,” a 70-year-old refugee named Aisha told the UN News Centre.
Aisha lives a makeshift shelter for internally displaced people in Qudsaya, a mountain town in Syria that remains difficult to access.
These dangers also acutely affect children. The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) recently issued a “direct appeal” to donate warm clothing and blankets to Syrian children. According to the Eastern Daily Press, some Syrian communities have received “little to no aid” for almost two years.
The problem has worsened within the last year as there are now around 500,000 children — twice as many children living under siege in Syria 12 months ago — separating them from vital aid and services.
The plight of Syrian refugees should be at the forefront of Christians’ minds this Christmas. As Americans prepare to celebrate the holidays, we should remember that the Christmas story includes a narrative of forced migration: Mary and Joseph fled their home to travel to Egypt in order to escape King Herod.
That means that Jesus and his family were refugees. Like Mary, Joseph and Jesus over two thousand years ago, Syrian refugees today are seeking safety: to preserve their lives and their families in the face of dangers and disasters.
Christmastime presents many opportunities to help refugees. Preemptive Love, an organization that is on the front lines of efforts to help refugees and pursue peace in the Middle East, sells products like candles and soap made by Syrian refugees. Purchasing gifts for families and friends allows the women who hand-make these products to “reclaim their lives from the ashes of war.” Donating to other organizations, such as World Relief and World Vision this season also helps to provide aid and services to refugees, especially as we enter brutally cold months.
In the past, we haven’t done enough to help refugees. A recent World Vision report shows that two-thirds of American Christians say that they have not done anything to help Syrian refugees within the last year, up only slightly since 2015. This Christmas, let’s change that.