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November 21, 2015

Allentown's Syrian population divided over refugees

AP reports highlights split in one of nation's largest Syrian communities

The debate over the United States accepting Syrian refugees has intensified since the Paris attacks, igniting a struggle between President Barack Obama and Congress as well as a number of the nation’s governors.

In Allentown, the issue has deeper roots, as a large Syrian population is present alongside many refugees who have resettled there from the war-torn country.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the city’s Syrians are for the most part Christian and many support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Some of Allentown’s Syrians oppose resettling refugees from the country, with car dealer Aziz Wehbey telling AP that some of the refugees may have fought in the conflict occurring overseas and that society needs to know who’s coming in.

Yet other Christian Syrians welcome them. One Syrian-born resident who moved to the city in 1999 cited his own immigrant past in arguing the country should accept refugees, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the refugees themselves are cautious. According to AP, they believe al-Assad has informants in the community that will endanger their families back home.

None of the three refugees AP spoke to said they experienced direct hositilty or discrimination, however.

Since Allentown has become a large center for Syrian refugees, one charity has tried to make the transition to America easier.

CBS Philly reports the Syrian Arab American Charity Association holds a monthly event where food and medical supplies are distributed as the number coming into the community grows.

CBS also spoke to many city residents who expressed sympathy for those coming from Syria to flee the fighting, but questions over the security risk they pose has caused lawmakers to take action. 

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill with a large majority to temporarily suspend Obama's plan to accept Syrian refugees. Obama has said he will veto it. 

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has said he is committed to accepting more refugees in his state, but GOP lawmakers are pushing him to reverse that stance.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was among a number of mayors who wrote to the president in September to offer accepting more.

He has also said that anger over the Paris attacks shouldn't be misdirected at Syrian refugees.