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Effort grows to bring Syrian refugees to St. Louis


Bring them here.

That’s the rallying cry of a march planned for this weekendin St. Louis asking the U.S. government to allow more Syrian refugees to resettle in the city.

The St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is organizing the event Sunday evening in the Delmar Loop. Executive director FaizanSyed said more than 1,000 people have indicated they will attend.

"Our goal is to organize people and bring them together to show their support to refugees overseas," Syed said, "and to show our elected officials and locals in St. Louis that we want these people to come here, that they are our brothers and sisters in humanity and we believe that they can and should come to the St. Louis area."

So far this year 29 Syrian refugees have come to St. Louis, according to the International Institute, and 20 more are expected. The U.S. will take in about 2,000 refugees from the war-torn country this year.

Syed said the U.S. should be taking in far more. He echoed the call to welcome 65,000 refugees by the end of 2016 made by several humanitarian and religious groups and 14 Democratic senators in May, including Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.)

"Anybody who has a heart, who witnesses the tragedy that they’re seeing unfold on television, who sees children drowning in the sea, they have to morally take the stand that the U.S., which has the largest economy in the world, that has this massive land size, can and should bring these people to our nation," he said.

Others are arguing that taking in Syrians would be an economic boon for St. Louis. On the blogNextSTL, Greg Johnson , an associate pastor at Memorial Presbyterian, pointed to the influx of Bosnian refugees that the city welcomed in the 1990s.

"Bosnians have brought nothing but blessing to St. Louis," Johnson said. "Entire neighborhoods saw revitalization, new businesses were started, and the city’s decades-long decline in population slowed. Our region is better for their having joined us."

The pastor said St. Louis should resettle as many as 60,000 Syrians.

Mayor Francis Slay is taking a more cautious approach. He told St. Louis Public Radio on Tuesday that his administration is having conversations about what the city can do.

"We’re certainly analyzing the situation and seeing if there is a way St. Louis can be involved in it," Slay said.

The president and Congress will ultimately decide how many Syrian refugees can resettle in the U.S., including in St. Louis. President Barack Obama will set the cap for all refugees by October 1, when the federal government’s fiscal year begins.

In 2015 that cap was 70,000 refugees from around the world, including 33,000 from the Middle East. That number may rise for next year. On Monday, a National Security Council spokesman said the administration is "considering a range of approaches to be more responsive to the global refugee crisis."

Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill says the U.S. should take its fair share of the refugees. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, McCaskill called the situation "a humanitarian crisis" and the U.S. has a duty to step up.

"If there ever was a huddle mass yearning to breathe free, it’s these migrants that are coming from horrific living conditions in countries that are torn up with violence," McCaskill said.

McCaskill said that U.S. diplomats are working to increase the number of countries around the world willing to take-in refugees.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.

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