Slay wants Syrian refugees to make St. Louis home

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR) - Mayor Francis Slay held a press conference on Thursday to address the possibility of bringing Syrian refugees to St. Louis. The Mayor's office says 29 Syrian refugees are already in St. Louis, with at least 20 more on the way.  The Mayor would like many more refugees to come to the area.

Millions of refugees are fleeing Syria, half we are told, are children. Many of them have made their way to Europe. But, there are calls for the United States to play a bigger part in resettling the Syrians trying to escape civil war.

Now some advocates are asking the US government to take at least 65,000 Syrian refugees next year. That is on top of the 70,000 refugees from all countries come to the US in any given year.

A news conference Thursday included remarks from a representative of the United Nation`s refugee program. She happens to be visiting Missouri. We were told even with that kind of an increase at the national level, the most St. Louis would expect, would be 1,200 to 1,400 a refugees a year from all over the globe. How many would be Syrian is unknown.

Mayor Slay says the city could easily handle that kind of increase. "We are set up to handle these. From the city government's standpoint, I am here to show this effort has the city government`s full support."

"There is a very rigorous screening process for every refugee, as a result, there is an average time of about 18 months from the time we refer an individual to the time they arrive in the US. So even if we are talking about increased numbers of Syrians, they will not be arriving tomorrow or next week or anytime in the immediate future." said U.N. Refugees Advisor Jana Mason.

Many of those wanting to see St. Louis take in additional Syrian refugees say the success of the Bosnian resettlement program here in the 1990'S is proof the city and county can absorb those numbers. Based on the Bosnian experience the refugees would likely become productive members of the community in a matter of months, not years, as some fear.

The International Institute of St. Louis is the only local agency left that sponsors refugees. Right now the annual average of people they bring to St. Louis is between 600-700 a year.

Mayor Slay pointed out that his grandparent's immigrated to St. Louis from that same part of the world and became community leaders.

The Mayor posted a blog post in favor of welcoming Syrian refugees to the area.  This is an excerpt:

St. Louis is no stranger to refugees. The region welcomed (and has been enlivened by) the arrival of tens of thousands of Bosnian refugees two decades ago. We would seem a likely home for the Syrians.The St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations agrees and will sponsor a march this weekend supporting resettlement here. Grassroots and netroots campaigns have sprung in support of the idea. Mayor Francis Slay supports it and is gathering partners to help.

Take the Mayor's Syrian Refugee survey here.