Officials in Stone Mountain are debunking an online report claiming the small city has recently taken in more Syrian refugees than New York City and Los Angeles combined.
The Daily Caller said the DeKalb County town had taken in 72 refugees fleeing the war-torn Middle Eastern nation since Oct. 1, 2015. The city said it hasn’t received a report of any such refugees ending up within its limits at all.
But the story — and anger — picked up traction online Thursday as the issue of where to resettle people fleeing Syria remains hotly-debated around the country and in the presidential campaign.
In a statement released late Thursday, City Manager Chaquias Thornton suggested that any confusion was the result of the large area of unincorporated Stone Mountain. Some 6,000 people live in the city limits, but, because of postal codes which have no bearing on the city, 117,000 have Stone Mountain addresses.
Yet only one address seems to really count in this case.
World Relief, an international nonprofit known for work with refugees, has a location with a Stone Mountain address.
Local Director Joshua Sieweke explained to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday the Daily Caller report seems to draw from a federal database which only shows the address of the resettlement agency that helps refugees — not the address of where the refugees end up. The director couldn't think of a single refugee — from Syria or any other country — who had been resettled in the city of Stone Mountain.
“That’s why the article is really disappointing,” Sieweke said. “The article is drawing some pretty strong conclusions from a tremendous lack of information.”
Even World Relief's office isn't technically in the city.
As talk swelled on Facebook, the city manager assured: “There has been no action presented to or taken by City Council in regards to any refugees in our community."
The Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson stood by his reporting in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday night.
“All I can tell you is what the State Department's refugee processing center says, which is that 72 Syrian refugees are listed as being placed in the city of Stone Mountain, GA this fiscal year,” he said. “I reached out to the mayor for comment before I wrote the story and have yet to hear back.”
The issue has been controversial for some time in Georgia as some residents and politicians fear terrorists could slip in claiming to be refugees. Last year, Gov. Nathan Deal sought to ban them, but because of federal law, he couldn't and later rescinded the order.
The majority of the families to come to Georgia have ended up in the Marietta area, where a church has been welcoming, Sieweke said.
Federal data showed in August that 376 Syrian refugees had been resettled in Georgia since the start of the civil war there in 2011.
Based on the Daily Caller's assertion, that would mean Stone Mountain got nearly one fifth of all the Syrian refugees in the state, which spans nearly 60,000 square miles. Stone Mountain is about 1.5 square miles.
The city and Sieweke said the Daily Caller garbled the facts.
But the city manager added: “The City of Stone Mountain is a warm and friendly community and we welcome all who chose to visit and reside here.”