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Man Who Started Syrian Refugee Petition Invited To The White House

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 15/10/2015 Amanda Terkel
ATHENA IMAGE © Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press ATHENA IMAGE

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has responded to a petition calling on the U.S. to resettle tens of thousands of Syrian refugees within its borders, inviting the man who started the petition to the White House for a meeting.

George Batah, 23, came from Syria in 2013 and now lives in Chicago. He said he started the petition in late August because he felt the United States has a moral obligation to continue being "the leader in refugee resettlement."

His petition asked the White House to accept at least 65,000 Syrian refugees by 2016. The administration did not commit to that number in its response Thursday, instead reiterating that it intends to bring at least 10,000. 

"Under President Obama, the U.S. is the world's largest donor of humanitarian aid, having contributed $4 billion in aid to date to help meet urgent needs in the most effective way," the administration wrote. "The President has also directed his Administration to scale up the number of Syrian refugees we will bring to the U.S. next year to at least 10,000."

More than 4 million people have fled the conflict in Syria. 

Batah told The Huffington Post Thursday that while he was pleased to see the administration's response, he intends to keep pushing officials to take more refugees.

"Ten thousand by 2016 is very meaningful, because 10,000 people's lives would be saved," Batah said. "But at the same time, I feel that a country like the U.S., with its resources, can contribute more in terms of the number."

After Batah started his petition, administration officials invited him to the White House for a meeting in mid-September. He met with staff members from the National Security Council and other departments, but said he wasn't allowed to disclose exactly who was there. 

"When we met, they clearly cared about the issue and wanted to help address the crisis overall," Batah said. "I'm not in politics, it's not my strength, but I felt they genuinely care about it."

In September, Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged to HuffPost that the United States "could do a lot more to protect those people" fleeing Syria.

The United States has been focusing its efforts on the Islamic State's presence in Syria, although most refugees are fleeing due to attacks on civilians by President Bashar Assad, who is now being propped up by an increasingly heavy Russian military response. 

Batah said he is continuing his activism on the issue, recently working with Change.org to encourage people to start petitions calling on their mayors to welcome more refugees. 

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