Detroit Refugee Network launched to aid Afghan, Ukrainian migrants

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Samaritas, a Detroit-based human services organization that operates one of the state's largest refugee resettlement programs, said Wednesday the agency and community partners are launching the Detroit Refugee Network to aid incoming migrants.

A coalition of corporate, civic and community leaders will provide support services through the network to refugees from Afghanistan, Ukraine and other nations as they resettle in Detroit.

Leaders of the network, Samaritas Chief Advancement Officer Kelli Dobner, Detroit's first lady Dr. Sonia Hassan and Laura Grannemann, vice president of the Rocket Community Fund, made the announcement in the courtyard of an apartment complex on the city's west side where refugees are being resettled. 

"It's really hard to leave your hometown and even harder to leave your family behind," said Hamed Ahmadzai, a 22-year-old Afghan refugee who migrated on Sept. 5. "I used to live in the capital, Kabul, but on Aug. 15, when it collapsed to the Taliban, I knew I had to leave — even by myself."

Ahmadzai said he still speaks with his siblings and parents who are constantly changing locations in Afghanistan after abandoning their hometown of Balkh. He has since been hired by a partnering resettlement agency

The network will serve clients of three resettlement agencies including Samaritas, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan. 

Through the three agencies, more than 650 Afghan refugees have resettled in Southeast Michigan since last year, with more than 250 planning to settle in Detroit. So far, 210 refugees have moved into Detroit homes, but need additional support, especially in the first year of resettlement, officials said.

The network is seeking $1.13 million to provide refugees in Detroit with services that include housing, education, transportation, legal service support, English as a second language training, utility assistance and employment. Donations can be made at

The majority of Afghan refugees have a limited “humanitarian parolee” status and there is not yet a large community of Afghans in Metro Detroit.

“Thanks to the partnership and vision of the City of Detroit, we are going to be able to help more refugees from Afghanistan and elsewhere become more acclimated Detroiters, more quickly, so they can thrive in their new community,” said Dobner, co-chair of the Detroit Refugee Network.

Earlier this year, as hundreds of the Afghan refugees resettled in Michigan, most were living in hotels because finding affordable housing and other support has become a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michigan is slated to aid 1,603 Afghan refugees, most of whom arrived in mid-February. Refugees will be placed in the care of nonprofit resettlement agencies – 36% in Southeast Michigan, 21% in Grand Rapids, 18% in Ann Arbor, 16% in Lansing and 9% in Kalamazoo. 

Samaritas Chief Advancement Officer Kelli Dobner and Detroit's First Lady, Dr. Sonia Hassan, announce the Detroit Refugee Network, which will provide support services to refugees from Afghanistan and other nations as they resettle in Detroit, on Wednesday, April 20, 2022. Dobner and Hassan are co-chairs of the network.

The network has already received nearly $50,000 in donations from its partner, CARE USA, which has joined the effort to provide cash payments of up to $1,000 to refugee families who have resettled in Detroit.

As the daughter of Egyptian immigrants, Hassan said she's witnessed how her parents' drive, passion and determination led to the American dream after starting from nothing. She also touted Detroit as a welcoming, safe city for migrants fleeing danger.

“The Detroit Refugee Network is helping families to embark on new lives in the City of Detroit. I am deeply committed and honored to be a part of this cause,” said Hassan, who also serves as co-chair of the Network.

The network intends to keep families in Detroit by providing immediate placement in affordable permanent housing with a road to homeownership, basic needs, safety and legal services, access to health care, employment programs, transportation, cultural and social education, school integration and connecting them with faith community partners.

Dobner said more than 75% of refugees are self-sufficient within 180 days.

“We desperately need housing. Individual homes, duplexes, it doesn't matter," she said. "We need places next to schools to cater to our families that arrived with children. The better our inventory is, means we can only provide sustainability that much sooner."

The network is being supported with workforce opportunities through the Rocket Community Fund, which has seven staff embedded with Samaritas. The company estimates that is a $750,000 in-kind donation. The team will help identify and execute the housing opportunities, manage relationships with landlords, monitor inventory needs, coordinate moving and assist with job placement once the refugees are settled into housing.

“We are committed to providing lasting and sustainable housing for Detroit residents, including those refugees who now call our city home,” said Rocket's Vice President Grannemann “The Detroit Refugee Network is a critical initiative that provides supports to those who need it most, and we are proud to be providing Samaritas and its partners with the support they need to fulfill this urgent mission.”

Said Urahman, 31, arrived from Afghanistan in November. He fled Afghanistan with his two young children, ages 6 and 3, and his wife who was pregnant at the time with their third child. Their son was born in Detroit a few weeks ago.

He spent months in a military base before moving to temporary housing in a hotel for three months. He didn't want to comment on the environment overseas but said it was difficult to leave in the middle of a pandemic and during the winter.

"It was very complicated at the beginning. We didn't have anyone, no friends, no one," he said. "As the process was going, I've had people reach out to offer help. A lot of the refugees are still in the same process. People need legal services, employment, and transportation. Still, it's exciting to be here because we see other immigrants in Detroit doing very well."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_