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Lancaster group helping Syrian refugees relocate to central PA

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LANCASTER, Pa. – A local group is working to help dozens of refugees from the unrest in Syria relocate to the Susquehanna Valley.

Church World Service, a national organization with an office in Lancaster, is one of about ten groups that have an agreement with the State Department to help displaced refugees to settle here in the United States.

For those who have fled Syria, the scars of the ongoing civil war and the rise of the Islamic State are all too real.

“What they want to do is go back to Syria, but that's impossible unless they risk their lives or the lives of their children,” Sheila Mastropietro, office director for Church World Service in Lancaster, said. “There's no future there for their children.”

The growth of ISIS and the ongoing Syrian conflict has displaced roughly half of the country's population, forcing them to flee to neighboring countries like Jordan, Egypt and Turkey. It has taken the average refugee family more than three years to be able to land on their feet in a country where they can eventually fend for themselves, Mastropietro said.

“These 4 million people are living with not enough and the countries can't absorb them, and many of the countries keep them very outside, no education for kids, they don't let them work,” she said.

The U.S. is taking in about 10,000 refugees for now. Church World Service in Lancaster is working to help about 60 Syrian refugees land on their feet here in central Pennsylvania by the end of the year.

“We are expected to work with them for 90 days,” Mastropietro said. “[We] find them an apartment, furnish the apartment, usually with used furniture or donated furniture, provide them with food, [and] hook them up to a medical provider.”

The first family from Syria arrived earlier this week. While CWS is not revealing their identities publicly for protection, they say the family is eager to get to know their new neighbors and leave a lasting impact on the community.

“The top thing on their mind is, ‘Let me get a job and start taking care of myself,’ so I think that will be their primary concern and learning English,” Mastropietro said.

The group is hosting a panel Friday morning in Lancaster city council chambers to create awareness about the Syrian refugee crisis and let people know how they can help. It will be held from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Southern Market Center, 100 S. Queen Street.