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Local aid groups respond to Europe refugee crisis

Syrian refugees waited at the port of Lesbos island, Greece, to board a ferry traveling to Athens.Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press

As the migrants crisis in Europe deepens, charities and relief groups in the Boston area are mobilizing to raise money for humanitarian aid and standing ready for a potential influx of migrants to Massachusetts.

On Tuesday, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, one of the state’s largest nonprofit groups, sent out a fund-raising appeal to help hundreds of thousands of migrants who have overwhelmed Europe, among the largest waves of displaced people since World War II.

“The needs of the refugees are profound and immediate,” wrote Barry Shrage, the group’s president. “And they are growing each day.

“As Jews, we can never forget what it was like to be homeless refugees,” he added.


In a single day, the group had raised close to $150,000, Shrage said.

Advocates praised Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker, who have signaled their support for the idea of having some migrants relocate here.

“I certainly think the US ought to be part of the solution and believe most states would want to be helpful if they could be,” Baker told reporters Wednesday.

The mass exodus, primarily from war-torn Syria and Afghanistan, has sparked a tense debate over how to relieve the crisis.

More than 380,000 migrants have arrived in Europe this year after crossing the Mediterranean Sea, according to the United Nations. More than 2,800 are dead or missing.

Last month, the US State Department said this country would accept 5,000 to 8,000 refugees from Syria next year, but advocates have urged a much larger commitment. The International Rescue Committee has called on the United States to resettle 65,000 Syrian refugees by the end of next year.

Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said the federal government should take steps to expedite resettlements, given the scope of the crisis. “It’s a very sad situation,” she said.


The number of Syrian migrants settling in Massachusetts has jumped sharply, from just one in fiscal 2014 to 52 this fiscal year, according to government records. Nationally, the number of Syrian migrants rose from 105 to 1,293.

Advocates said they are prepared to help with resettlement as needed, but noted the difficulties of clearing refugees to enter this country.

“Given the pace of the refugee process, it’s going to take some time,” Millona said.

According to Moira Lucey, programs director at the Refugee & Immigrant Assistance Center, which has offices in Boston, Worcester, and Lynn, “Getting through the process can be very complex. There are a lot of different layers.”

The chaotic scenes from Europe have accelerated charitable efforts.

“The seemingly endless wars and conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq have reached a tipping point — many families see no alternative but to flee,” said Carolyn Miles, president of the international aid agency Save the Children. “We are appealing to the public to help us help these desperate children.”

Maxine Stein, president of Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts, said her group had resettled six families from Syria in the past couple of months in the Springfield area. While all refugees undergo hardship to reach the United States, Syrian families face an especially daunting transition.

“There’s just high trauma,” she said.

Many referred to the heartbreaking photographs of a Syrian boy whose body was found face down on a beach in Turkey.

“It is the image of one lifeless boy washing ashore in Turkey that has captured the eyes of the world,” Shrage wrote in his fund-raising appeal.


Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com.