Lehigh Valley

Fear keeps Syrian refugees away from interfaith service

Organizers say attacks in Paris kept refugees from participating in service meant to welcome them to the U.S.

Syrian refugee interfaith service

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Hundreds of people gathered together Sunday for an interfaith service in Allentown to honor and welcome new Syrian refugees to the Lehigh Valley.

But in the wake of the attacks in Paris and the national debate over the acceptance of Syrian refugees into the U.S., many of the local Syrian refugees were absent from the service.

"Some did not want to be be at such a high level or visible event," said Dr. Larry Pickens of Lehigh Conference of Churches.

The service, held at Dubbs Memorial United Church of Christ in Allentown,was planned back in October.

The goal was to welcome the more than 100 new refugees who will call Allentown home this year.

After news that at least one of the Paris attackers posed as a Syrian refugee to enter Europe, organizers say there was some pressure from some local politicians to cancel the event.

"We felt it was important to go forward," Pickens said.

The service went on, but Pickens said Syrian refugee families were afraid to come.

"I think anytime there is a news story, that's anti-Muslim or anti-refugee people start to get nervous," said Janet Panning, Director of Lutheran Children and Family Services.

Gov. Tom Wolf has said he would work with the federal government to continue to re-settle refugees in Pennsylvania. Over the last week, 31 governors have said they would block Syrian refugees from settling in their states.

"To come into that climate you don't know who in your new country may turn on you," Panning said.

At the church, the refugee families can rest assured that dozens in the Lehigh Valley community are praying for their health, happiness, and safety.

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