Chapel Hill News

Chapel Hill mayor offers welcome to Syrian refugees

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt issued a statement of welcome to Syrian refugees this week, after Gov. Pat McCrory joined about two dozen other mostly Republican governors in asking the federal government to halt the flow of Syrian refugees into their states.

“Our community is a place for everyone,” Kleinschmidt said. “Being true to the values of our welcoming, open and peace-loving town requires us to speak out.”

The governors’ calls came three days after the Paris terror attacks, in which one assailant had what was later found to be a fake Syrian passport.

“My primary duty as governor is to keep the citizens of North Carolina safe,” McCrory told reporters in Charlotte.

It’s unclear whether the requests will slow the arrival of any refugees.

A White House official said the administration “remains steadfastly committed” to President Barack Obama's plan to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. in the coming year. Officials have determined that can be done "safely (and) consistent with our national security."

McCrory's action drew praise from some GOP lawmakers and conservatives. U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina called for the program to be suspended.

"I do not believe we should accept any additional refugees until we have a robust and enhancing vetting process in place," U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Republican from Dunn, said in a written statement.

U.S. Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat, disagreed.

"Closing our borders to refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war not only flies in the face of our national values ... it also undermines our nation's standing in the world and our ability to confront the scourge of violent extremism," Price said in a statement

McCrory said that 59 Syrian refugees have settled in North Carolina from the beginning of 2014 to last month. It's unclear what the governor can do to stop the arrival of more.

Here is Kleinschmidt’s full statement:

“In Chapel Hill, a core value is respect for diversity. When I learned that some U.S. governors including the governor from North Carolina want to prevent Syrian refugees from entering our country, I thought about how this news may make Muslim residents feel.

“I have been meeting and making friendships with many of them over the past several months. Most are college students, some from faraway countries, others from small N.C. towns, many local. All of them call Chapel Hill home. Their Muslim faith distinguishes them from others in our community, and unfortunately, in this political environment, it creates a heightened sense of vulnerability.

“To my Muslim friends and the whole community, I commit to you that we will not allow acts of terrorism to be wrongly connected to an entire group of people. I want to reassure you that you are respected, protected and supported. Our community is a place for everyone. Being true to the values of our welcoming, open and peace-loving town requires us to speak out.

“More than 250,000 people have died since the violence erupted in Syria in 2011, and at least 11 million people in the country of 22 million have fled their homes. Syrians are now the world’s largest refugee population, according to the United Nations. Most are struggling to find safe haven in Europe, fleeing from the same kinds of horror the people of Paris experienced last Friday. In the United States, the emphasis is on admitting the most vulnerable Syrians – particularly survivors of violence and torture, those with severe medical conditions, and women and children.

“Our nation applies a stringent security screening process to all refugees, including Syrians. I have confidence in this system. It has served our community well in the past. For examples of local refugee response, see http://refugeesupportcenter.org/ Learn more about the screening process at www.state.gov/documents/organization/249289.pdf

Syrian refugees are welcome in Chapel Hill.”

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