Although Governor Pat McCrory and many state lawmakers oppose allowing Syrian refugees into North Carolina, the Durham City Council has chosen to welcome them.
In October, the Durham City Council unanimously passed a resolution—proposed by Steve Schewel, city council member and visiting assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy—in support of resettling Syrian refugees in Durham, putting the city at odds with state leadership. Along with the governors of 26 other states, McCrory signed a letter in November asking President Obama to cease the resettlement of additional Syrian refugees until the background check process has been federally reviewed. Schewel said that he stands by the City Council resolution in light of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.
“I feel as strongly as ever that we need to be welcoming toward refugees from Syria,” Schewel said.
Schewel noted that the United States’ response to this crisis is increasingly important as the global refugee population is at its highest since World War II, including more than four million refugees from Syria.
Unlike McCrory, the Durham City Council was not convinced that allowing refugees would pose a national security threat because refugees undergo a vetting process that takes more than a year.
“No terrorist is going to go through an 18-month vetting process to get into the U.S.,” Schewel said.
The letter signed by McCrory and other Republican governors holds the opposite view.
“We are deeply concerned that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria may have exploited the generosity of the refugee system to carry out [the Nov. 13] terrorist attack in Paris,” the letter states.
Schewel criticized some lawmakers’ reluctance to accept refugees, noting that that many people are playing on national security fears in a harmful fashion. Chapel Hill mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s Nov. 17 statement welcoming refugees represents a step in the right direction, Schewel said.
Because Durham has taken a welcoming stance toward Syrian refugees, community leaders face the task of effectively supporting them upon arrival to the Bull City, as the needs of refugees are often not adequately met by state and federal grant-funded programs.
Adam Clark, office director of World Relief Durham—an organization that works with refugees who have recently moved to the city—noted that World Relief Durham assists with their transition by implementing federal and state grant-funded programs for refugee children. These programs meet basic needs such as housing, food and enrollment in Durham public schools, but do not provide other items such as school supplies and furniture.
World Relief Durham relies on churches and community organizations for supplemental support—for example, volunteer support as well as material and financial donations that benefit the children, Clark noted.
Clark explained that Schewel provided “big support” for the resolution and called it a “good start”, but added that he would like to see Durham’s commitment to refugees matched by other cities in the country.
“Part of the hope is that other communities across the state will echo our support and push for a higher number of Syrians to be allowed in the U.S.,” Clark said. “If there is anything else more impactful and specific we could create and pass in support of Syrian refugees, I’d love to be a part of that legislation as well.”
Rachel Sereix contributed reporting.