World Refugee Day commemorated in Lancaster with discussion on Syrian refugee crisis

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LANCASTER, Pa. – Civic leaders held a public commemoration Friday in honor of World Refugee Day, calling on the public to celebrate diversity and provide hospitality to those who have been displaced from their nations of origin.

Through the work of Church World Service and Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services, the city is opening its arms to a new group of refugees from Syria, which has been ravaged by civil war and the rise of the Islamic State.

“We are so blessed here to have so many people from so many different cultures to come and settle here in our city,” James Reichenbach of the Lancaster City Council said. “It makes it a destination place for people to want to live, to want to learn, to want to interact with one another.”

The church groups and the city hosted a panel discussion on the latest developments in Syria, featuring national leaders from the church groups and a Lancaster resident who was a refugee and has now lived in the United States for decades.

The Lancaster area is already home to around 600 refugees from around the world, including a family from Syria that arrived this week. Leaders called on the community to welcome the new arrivals.

“Syrians don't have a pre-established community in Lancaster already, so it's really as a community, we need to just embrace this new population, help them adjust, understand some of the trauma they have experienced and really rally around them to make their transition to life in the United States smooth,” said Jessica Knapp, of the Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services office in Lancaster.

Around four million refugees have fled Syria, many of them settling in camps in Jordan, Turkey and Egypt. The U.S. has committed to accepting up to 10,000 refugees so far. The groups are expecting up to 60 Syrian refugees to settle in Lancaster by the end of the year.

“These refugees are in a perilous situation,” Linda Hartke, president of the national Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services, said. “Their lives are at threat every day. They deserve a chance.”

Those who are already part of the refugee community in Lancaster say they are humbled by the opportunity to start a new life in the U.S. and work hand in hand with their neighbors to build a stronger community.

“Give them a chance, a little bit, and they might surprise you how much they can give to this country, because when we come here, we feel we are part of you,” Ahmed Sahtout, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Syria almost 35 years ago, said.