A few days ago, a pastor asked Syrian-born restaurant owner Marie Jarrah to donate food to a welcoming event for recently arrived Syrian refugees. Jarrah, who said she regularly helps people in need, declined.
Like many of Allentown’s establishment Syrians, she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to bring refugees to the city. She clung to that view even before last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris. “Problems are going to happen,” said Jarrah, co-owner of Damascus Restaurant in a heavily Syrian enclave.
As debate intensifies nationally over the federal government’s plan to accept an additional 10,000 refugees from war-ravaged Syria, a similar argument is taking place in Allentown – one with a sectarian twist.
Pennsylvania’s third-largest city is home to one of the nation’s largest populations of Syrians. They are mostly Christian and, in no small number, support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – a dynamic that’s prompting some of them to oppose the resettlement of refugees, who are Muslim and say they fled violence perpetrated by the Assad regime.