syrian_refugees
Syrian and Afghan refugees shout slogans and hold placards during a protest rally to demand to travel to Germany on September 2, outside the Keleti (East) railway station in Budapest. Hungarian authorities face mounting anger from thousands of migrants who are unable to board trains to western European countries after the main Budapest station was closed. (Ferenc Isza/AFP/Getty Images)

The controversy over whether the United States should accept Syrian refugees is a personal one for College and Wharton sophomore Sami Petros.

In his home country of Lebanon, just about 1.2 million Syrian refugees have entered the country since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency website.

“I’ve seen how big the problem is firsthand,” he said.

Masses have left Syria in attempts to escape the bloody power conflict that has caused an outbreak of violence. Though estimates vary, the number of refugees fleeing the war-torn area is estimated to be in the millions. Those who have chosen to leave are now faced with the struggle of finding a new home.

At Penn, students have shown concern for the current crisis. Petros is a member of the Wharton Middle East North Africa Club, which has successfully raised money to support the cause. On Friday, Nov. 20, they held an on-campus bake sale encouraging peers to buy “guilt-free” sweets and support those in Syria. In total, the club collected $447 for the cause. The money raised will go to the International Rescue Committee’s resettlement program for Syrian refugees and associated health clinics in support of local refugee camps.

This crisis seemed far away from many Americans at first, since refugees first attempted to travel to Europe. Now that Syrians are seeking refuge in the U.S., the crisis has begun to affect Penn students more deeply.

Although individual states lack the authority to decide whether refugees are allowed into the U.S., governors have freely expressed their opinions on the matter. Some are not pleased with the idea of the U.S. bringing refugees to their states.

“There may be those who will try to take advantage of the generosity of our country and the ability to move freely within our borders through this federal resettlement program, and we must ensure we are doing all we can to safeguard the security of Americans,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said in a statement on Nov. 16.

According to CNN, more than half of the nation’s governors have publicly opposed accepting refugees in their states, even though the power ultimately lies with the federal government.

These sentiments were further reflected when the House of Representatives approved a symbolic measure to keep refugees out by a vote of 239 to 187.

The issue has divided the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton used the issue to appeal to the empathy and moral values of voters. In a speech on Nov. 19, in New York, Clinton said, “Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims ... that’s just not who we are.”

1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump used the crisis to appeal to the fear of the American people that Syrian refugees could pose a threat to national security. His solution is to build a “safe zone” in Syria. At a speech in Knoxville, Tenn., on Nov. 16, Trump said, “What I like is to build a safe zone. It’s here, build a big beautiful safe zone and you have whatever it is so people can live, and they’ll be happier.”

The Obama administration issued a statement threatening to veto the bill passed by the House of Representatives on Nov. 18.

As of right now, the fate of Syrian refugees hangs in the balance. Some take the side of many congresspeople, saying that the Syrian refugees pose a threat to the U.S., and it would be best not to allow them into the country.

On the other hand, others have a more sympathetic view. Petros views the fears over Syrian refugees as insensitive. “Personally, I just hope that Penn students can see past all of the bullshit in the media and recognize that this is a very real modern day crisis affecting millions of people,” Petros said. ”And the political pundits who are trying to use this issue to gain support or spread messages of racism should honestly be ashamed.”

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