Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge receives threats over Syrian refugee

Catholic Charities of Baton Rouge receives death threats over Syrian refugee
Published: Nov. 17, 2015 at 11:13 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 18, 2015 at 10:42 AM CST
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge has received threats because they help Syrian refugees resettling in Louisiana, according to an official at the organization.

Communications Coordinator Carol Spruell said the organization received a call around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday where a person made gun threats.

Spruell said the organization has received calls in the past few days threatening to suspend donations, though the threats then escalated, prompting them to call police.

"We take every threat seriously," said Col. Mike Edmonson, head of the Louisiana State Police, which is currently investigating the threatening call.

Edmonson said the call came from out of state. Several other organizations that help refugees have also received threats, according to leaders of Catholic Charities.

Concerns over the Syrian refugee situation continue to grow in the United States.

Earlier Tuesday, Louisiana gubernatorial candidate David Vitter tweeted the following:

One refugee from the war-torn nation settled in the Capital City within the last year, according to the U.S. State Department. That individual has reportedly since relocated to the Washington, DC area.

Speaking at an impromptu press conference Tuesday evening at Catholic Charities, Edmonson denied Vitter's claims that they do not know his whereabouts.

"I've personally received numerous phone calls from people that said, 'I'm worried there's a Syrian loose and you don't know where it is,'" said Edmonson. "That is a mischaracterization, that is just simply not true."

In order to relocated within the United States, Syrian refugees are supposed to file paper work, alerting various organizations and the State Department.

"Syrians that we have settled in Louisiana are not out wandering willy-nilly around the country with their location and whereabouts unknown to us," said David Aguillard, the executive director of Catholic Charities in Baton Rouge.

The process of getting to the United States in the first place is extensive for refugees. Individuals must undergo years of interviews in refugee camps that include assessments aimed at identifying health and security threats.

"This can take anywhere between two to 10 years before we actually see a refugee stateside," said Corina Salazar, director of refugee resettlement at Catholic Charities in Baton Rouge.

So far, they said there are no Syrian refugees in the pipeline for resettlement in the Baton Rouge Metro area through at least March 2016.

Still, Edmonson said the federal government could be more forthcoming with information about refugees.

"We simply found out the State Department was not sharing information about this program on the local level," Edmonson said. "That's unacceptable to us."

However, the fact that Syrian refugees could be coming to Louisiana is not new information. Two weeks ago, Catholic Charities said publicly it was expecting some refugees, but was not sure how many or when.

Regardless, Catholic Charities said their main goal - making those individuals feel at home - is key.

"We want to welcome them into our society, we want to integrate them so they are not disaffected," Salazar said.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who issued an executive order Monday aimed at blocking Syrian refugees from entering Louisiana, participated in a conference call with the White House Tuesday evening. He was one of 34 governors to participate in the conversation.

During the call, 13 governors asked questions. It is unknown at this time whether he was one of the governors asking questions.

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