Michigan No.2 state in nation for Syrian refugees

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Bloomfield Hills — About a year ago, Ranya Shbeib and her family, who are Muslim and of Syrian descent, took in a Muslim teenager from Somalia.

Ranya Shbeib poses with her family, from left, Kareem Obeid, 11; Lana Obeid, 7; husband Anas Obeid, and Adel Obeid, 12, in their Bloomfield Hills home. Last year, a Somali teen in need of foster care in the United States stayed with the family.

Shbeib, who has three young children with her husband, said she felt compelled to become a foster parent for the girl after learning many Muslim refugee children in the foster care system want to be placed with Muslim families but can’t be because so few citizens are licensed to provide care.

“It was hard for me to know that and not do something about it,” the 36-year-old Bloomfield Hills resident said.

Diane Baird, who manages a refugee foster care program for faith-based nonprofit Samaritas, said the need for foster families, especially in light of a surge of incoming Syrian refugees, in Michigan is dire.

“We don’t have enough foster homes to meet the need that exists now, let alone the increase we anticipate next year,” Baird said.

Michigan has become the No. 2 spot where Syrian refugees have resettled in the U.S. Since May 2011, the start of the Syrian civil war, 1,404 Syrian refugees have moved into Michigan, according to the U.S. State Department.

Shbeib said she hopes other Muslim families consider opening their homes to children like her foster daughter. She said it’s important young refugees who are Muslim are able to celebrate religious holidays with their community.

“It really goes a long way when a child can go to a home where they share the same faith and traditions,” Shbeib said.

Baird said no Syrian refugee youths seeking asylum have yet arrived in Michigan. But she said Samaritas anticipates they could in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

“We received a referral list and there are 24 kids on it who are in refugee camps overseas and waiting for a place to be available for them,” she said. “There are lots of kids who are actively looking for homes right now, but we just don’t have any Syrian kids on the list yet.”

More than 13,338 Syrian refugees have come into the U.S. since May 2011, according to the federal government. Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 9 of this year, 10,795 Syrian refugees have resettled in the America, according to the state department.

Last month, the country reached the 10,000 goal set by the Obama administration last October to admit Syrian refugees into the U.S.

Michigan once ranked first among states for taking in Syrian refugees, the department said. But California recently surpassed the Great Lakes State for the top spot. New Hampshire and West Virginia were tied at the bottom with five. Some states — such as Alabama, Hawaii, South Dakota and Wyoming — haven’t taken in any Syrian refugees, the department reported.

Most of the refugees in Michigan resettled mostly in Metro Detroit, primarily in Troy, Dearborn and Clinton Township.

In Troy,437 Syrian refugees have taken up residence between May 2011 and Sept. 9, 2016, according to the state department. Dearborn is second with 297 and Clinton Township has 257.

The U.S. government administers the program that resettles Syrian refugees in America and it works with nine nonprofit organizations, most faith-based, to resettle them.

The agencies submit proposals to the government, describing their capacity to resettle refugees and how they’ll handle the process. Those groups also consult with local government officials and school districts about the newcomers.

In Metro Detroit, three primary refugee resettlement agencies — Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, or CCSEM, Samaritas and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, or USCRI — have resettled a total of more than 1,000 Syrian refugees in the area over the last several months, said Dave Bartek, CCSEM’s director of refugee settlement.

“Even without this refugee influx, we don’t have enough foster homes and we need more — everywhere,” Bartek said.

Experts said many Syrian refugees settle in Michigan and Metro Detroit because of the sizable Arabic and Syrian communities here.

More than 13,000 Michigan children are in foster care, according to Samaritas. But two-thirds of referrals to Samaritas are turned away because of the lack of available foster homes, she said.

Both nonprofits, Samaritas and CCSEM, are looking for foster families, especially ones who can take in young Syrian refugees.

Ranya Shbeib says she was moved to become certified to take in foster kids when she heard how great the need is for Muslim families.

Most of the kids who need foster families in Michigan are young teens, and that’s no different for young Muslim or Syrian refugees, Baird said.

State law requires foster families to be licensed and the process to get a license can be lengthy.

And since many young refugees have grown up in refugee camps, experienced emotional trauma and don’t speak English, being a foster family isn’t without challenges, Baird said.

“On top of everything else, they’re going to be a normal teenager,” Baird said. “There are parenting challenges that come along with teenagers.”

Shbeib also said foster families who want to help children shouldn’t wait until young Syrian refugees start arriving in Michigan.

“People don’t have to wait for the Syrian refugees to come,” Shbeib said. “There are so many children waiting in refugee camps for a home right now.”