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In New York, a Warmer Reception for Syrian Refugees


In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, politicians and others are calling for a ban — or at least a delay — on the influx of refugees to the United States.

Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have called on the U.S. to accept only Christian Syrian refugees, not Muslims. Presidential candidate Donald Trump goes one step further, saying he would accept none.

Dr. Ahmad Jaber, president of the Arab-American Association of New York and Dawood Mosque, calls such rhetoric unconstitutional.

"How dare you say you are not welcoming refugees," Jaber said. "How dare you say that based on their faith, you are not welcoming them because they are Muslims."

So far, roughly 2,200 Syrian refugees have arrived on American soil since the start of the Syrian civil war. About 77 percent of them are women and children, according to the U.S. State Department.

Only a handful of Syrians have landed in New York. But Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has called New York "a proud immigrant city," said the city will not turn its back on those who are persecuted and fleeing war. And he praised New York's current Muslim population as a crucial ally in the fight against terrorism.

FILE - A Syrian child holds a watermelon near the Akcakale crossing gate between Turkey and Syria on June 16, 2015.

FILE - A Syrian child holds a watermelon near the Akcakale crossing gate between Turkey and Syria on June 16, 2015.

Dawood Mosque, in the heart of Brooklyn, was the first mosque established in the state of New York, in 1939. Today, there are more than 270. Jaber says the community, made up of immigrants from Yemen, Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Syria, among others, welcomes refugees, both Muslim and Christian.

"We have a large relationship with the families in our neighborhood, who are welcoming immigrants to come and share their places," he said.

Jaber added that Syrian refugees are only searching for a haven — a place to live and continue their professions. His organization, for its part, provides social services including English-language assistance, health care and after-school programs for children.

Filling the voids

Other community groups fill the remaining voids. The International Rescue Committee provides an annual summer program for incoming refugee children in New York, to help prepare them for life in the city and its public schools.

FILE – A refugee camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, Oct. 11, 2014.

FILE – A refugee camp in Suruc, on the Turkey-Syria border, Oct. 11, 2014.

Sara Rowbottom, who heads the program, said its role is to create a community of support.

"Even when the larger community is not supportive, they know there is a community to which they belong, where they're valued, and where they can develop a really positive sense of who they are," Rowbottom said.

Three separate opinion polls published this month by Bloomberg, Washington Post/ABC, and NBC News indicate that a slight majority of Americans think the U.S. should not accept any more refugees from Syria, many citing security concerns in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has submitted over 22,000 individual cases for resettlement consideration throughout the country.

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