“How can we not help and support them?” These are the words of Father Cristobal Lopez, Salesian provincial of Mary Help of Christians in Seville, Spain. He refers to the millions of refugees fleeing war, violence and other horrors at home -- the men, women and children who journey to other countries seeking a better life.
Their numbers are staggering. An estimated 1.8 million people have fled Syria for Turkey alone.
At the same time that his own province prepares to accept as many as 15,000 asylum-seekers during the next two years, Fr. Cristobal highlights the crucially important work that Salesian missionaries are doing on behalf of those who remain in, or very close to, war-torn areas.
“Perhaps these families and children cannot leave, or feel duty-bound to stay,” he says. “But we [must not] forget those who continue to suffer -- in their own homes, on the streets and in their own neighborhoods.”
This is why, when violence first erupted in Syria four years ago, our Salesian missionaries did not abandon the people. Having served in Syria for more than 60 years, our missionaries vowed to remain, despite very real threats to their own security. Today, we continue to serve between 400 and 800 people each day at sites where refugees receive shelter, meals and medical assistance. Missionaries also offer training programs to help prepare displaced citizens find employment wherever they may eventually settle. And, finally, we continue to operate the oratories -- where young people who have been forced to leave their homes find refuge and camaraderie.
Father Munir El Rai, provincial of the Salesians in the Middle East, attests to the importance of this work, on a practical, as well as spiritual, level.
“I have seen the suffering of the people who remain, and the loneliness they feel for those who have gone,” he says. “But when they attend a Salesian house, they can breathe an air of joy in a family atmosphere. It is their oasis of hope, and one sees that their love of life is stronger than ever.”
Families and children who do manage to leave Syria, often find themselves in neighboring Turkey. And, because most of these refugees do not speak the local language, it is difficult for children to attend school, or for adults to find employment.
Salesian work in the country therefore serves a critical role -- linking refugees to service providers and offering assistance as they transition, for an undetermined amount of time, into local society.
At the Don Bosco Center in Istanbul, more than 400 refugees participate in English-language instruction, basic education and vocational training -- as well as counseling services to help them overcome their experiences. In addition, approximately 350 children are learning traditional school subjects such as math, geography and music. They also have access to sports and other group activities designed to help them connect with peers and find enjoyment and comfort in their new surroundings.
“Without a doubt, the biggest Salesian success is the safe space created for youth who have experienced trauma in their home countries,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “At the Don Bosco Center, refugee children take part in activities with Turkish children, which helps them forget their worries and just be kids once again.”
During an unprecedented historical moment, when millions of people seek peace and new hope free from violence and persecution, our Salesian missionaries will be there, opening our doors and hearts to them. This is our commitment!
Our mission brings humanitarian assistance, dignity and new hope to refugees. What’s your mission?