- Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2015

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) - The mayor of an eastern Pennsylvania city with one of the nation’s largest Syrian populations said Monday that his city welcomes Syrian refugees and will help support them as they get settled in the United States.

Expressing confidence in the federal government’s refugee vetting process, Mayor Ed Pawlowski said Americans shouldn’t succumb to what he called unfounded fear that refugees pose a security risk.

“Their lives have been destroyed. They’ve lost their homes, they’ve lost their families, they’ve lost their businesses. And we have a responsibility, I believe, as the wealthiest country on the face of the planet, to help these individuals,” Pawlowski said.

He was joined at a news conference by officials from Lutheran Children and Family Service, the agency that is placing refugees in Allentown. The officials requested donations of money and household supplies and called on landlords and employers to help absorb the refugees.

Allentown has accepted nine Syrian refugee families since March for a total of 44 people. Dozens more are expected over the next year.

Refugees are being resettled here in part because the city and its suburbs already have a substantial Syrian population, numbering about 5,200. But some Syrian Christians, who are in the majority, have expressed opposition to the resettlement of Muslim refugees in the city of more than 120,000, worried that extremists who fought in the country’s bitter civil war are being permitted into the country.

The distrust runs both ways. On Sunday, an interfaith event to welcome refugees to Allentown drew more than 500 people - but the refugee families who moved to the area in recent months stayed away, concerned about a backlash in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

Refugees who spoke to The Associated Press last week said they were aware of the opposition of some of Allentown’s Syrians, but that they had not experienced any overt hostility or discrimination.

While some Syrian Christians have expressed concern about the refugees, others are helping them get established.

“The current crisis in Syria breaks our heart,” said Ayoub Jarrouj, president of the Syrian Arab-American Charity Association, which hosted Monday’s news conference. “We must help our brothers and our sisters find safety and stability and hope in their new country.”

Noting that Syrians have been migrating to the city for decades and are now deeply rooted in its professional and civic life, Pawlowski said: “We are going to continue to welcome them in our community.”

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