© 2022 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Local News

Syrian Refugee Debate Hits Close To Home

St. Andrew Orthodox Church

President Barack Obama is blasting Republicans who oppose allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S., saying that the political posturing "needs to stop." Meanwhile, some Pensacola residents are watching developments with much concern.

Speaking in the Philippines, Obama responded to calls from GOP leaders for an immediate, temporary closure of America's borders to Syria refugees. He specifically targeted the recent statements of some Republican presidential candidates.

“These are the same folks that oftentimes who suggest that they’re so tough, that just talking to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, or staring down ISIL, or using some additional rhetoric somehow going to solve the problem out there. But apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of  our tradition of compassion.”

More than half of the nation’s governors oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states – although they do concede that the final say will fall to the federal government.

On Tuesday. White House officials hosted a call with various state governors about the refugee vetting process, which the administration calls extensive, with safety the top concern. The President says he's open to ideas for enhancing the screening process -- but adds that's not what's happening in the current political debate. He also believes such rhetoric benefits the Islamic State.

Concern over Syrian refugees among some Pensacolians has been ongoing since the start of the Syrian civil war. Father David Bleam pastors St. Andrew Orthodox Church -- 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 during an interview with WUWF in September. “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.”

Bleam said he 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.”

The U-S will accept 85,000 people next year and 100,000 in 2017 -- mostly Syrian refugees. Those fleeing Syria and other war-ravaged countries, whose claims have been investigated and who have been invited to live in the United States, are considered refugees.

Father David Bleam also said in September, that he was glad that the United States was beginning to pay more attention to the Syrians’ plight.

“I hope that as a nation we respond and understand that these are victims of violent crimes,” said Bleam. “And, as much as much as we can help to take care of them, I think it would be great and think it would be a benefit to our country to have people from such as great civilization as Syria.”

The U.S. also plans to spend four and a half billion dollars 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.