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Syrian Refugees Coming to Pensacola?

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The White House says the United States will direct nearly $419 million in humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees. Meanwhile, preparations are underway for what could be the arrival of some refugees to the Pensacola area.

The website www.mercycorps.org reports more than 11 million people have been displaced by the civil war in Syria.

“The fact is the United States feels it’s important to also take our share of Syrian refugees, as part of this overall humanitarian effort,” said President Obama, during a visit with King Felipe of Spain. Press Sec. Josh Earnest said later that the President wants the U-S to take in more Syrian refugees.

“The fiscal year that will end at the end of [September], the United States is on track to take in about 1,500 Syrian refugees,” Earnest said. “[The President] has informed his team that he would like them to at least make preparations to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year.”

According to figures from the State Department, more than 2,100 refugees were processed in Florida from October, 2014 to last month. Eighty-four of them were from Syria.

Catholic Charites in Pensacola is among 180 refugee processing centers nationwide that work with the State Department. Calls seeking an interview were not returned.

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Watching the developments is Father David Bleam, pastor of St. Andrew Orthodox Church in Pensacola – which is the spiritual home to a number of Syrians who have relatives and friends in harm’s way.

“There’s quite a lot of concern. We have families that, for a long time, have been under pretty severe circumstances in Aleppo,” said Bleam. “These families have been under deprivation for quite some time. Some of them have been able to get out of Syria and get to other countries such as Germany.”

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, who represents Florida’s 1st Congressional District and serves on the House Intelligence Committee, concedes that the crisis in Syria is a serious humanitarian problem. But in a written statement, he says his main focus lies in the safety of Americans.

Bleam, however, doesn’t see Syrian refugees as any larger a threat than those from other countries.

“I think that the terroristic threat that we are concerned with is what’s ongoing now in their country, and facilitated by other countries,” said Bleam. “So, I do not think that this is a major concern. Obviously, there will have to be some form of vetting of refugees, but by and large I’m not concerned about this.”

Bleam was part of a group of clergy that traveled to Syria at the start of the civil war, meeting with President Bashar al-Assad. He says they were trying to ascertain just what was going on.

“At that time, there was not an indication that it would reach this magnitude per se, and I had certainly hoped it would not,” Bleam said. “That being said, it’s very distressing to see how it has escalated.”

The U.S. also plans to spend $4.5 billion in relation to the conditions inside Syria and in refugee camps in that region.  Since the money comes from the Agency for International Development, it won’t need approval from Congress.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.