Mich. groups vow to coordinate refugee help efforts

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Troy — Officials from Michigan organizations that work with refugees vowed Thursday to collaborate more and meet regularly to better serve exiles.

“There are many refugees — not just newcomers, but those who are already here — in need of our continued support,” said Haifa Fakhouri, president and CEO of the Arab American and Chaldean Council. “I know there are challenges, but we have to be ready to coordinate, to collaborate and to act.”

Fakhouri made the remarks during a meeting with officials at the council’s offices in Troy. About a dozen people from Michigan and Metro Detroit nonprofits and government agencies, including Samaritas, Michigan’s largest resettler of refugees, ACCESS, the country’s largest Arab American human services nonprofit, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services attended the meeting.

Fakhouri said her organization plans to host more meetings with the other groups each quarter.

The hope is that they can share information and refer newcomers to other organizations for complementary services, she said. For example, a group that provides employment services can direct refugees to organization that helps them buy a reliable used car.

“We need to coordinate and collaborate to best serve the community,” she said. “We are going through rough times, so we must make the best of it to comfort the refugees who are coming to our state.”

Nadine Kalasho, managing partner of Keys Grace Academy, a Chaldean-centered charter school in Madison Heights, said the meeting went well.

“I think it was a good meeting,” she said. “We have to coordinate with partners to help the refugee population. The bigger issue is the people, not us (organizations).”

The subject of refugees has been a lightning rod of controversy across the country as well as in Michigan and Metro Detroit.

Last month, President Donald Trump issued an executive order he said was aimed at keeping terrorists out of the United States and strengthening national security. The order banned immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. It also indefinitely barred the processing of refugees from Syria.

It sparked lawsuits, courts suspended the ban and a federal appeals court refused to reinstate it.

The Trump administration is working on a new executive order, but green-card holders and dual citizens of the U.S. and any of those seven Muslim-majority countries are exempt. In addition, Syrian refugees are not to be singled out by authorities when processing new visa applications.

Metro Detroit is home to one of the largest concentration of Muslims in the United States.

More than 19,947 Syrian refugees have come into the U.S. since May 2011, according to the U.S. State Department.

More than 2,094 Syrian refugees have arrived in Michigan since then, the federal agency reports. California ranks first in the number of Syrian refugees with 2,182.

Most of the refugees who come to Michigan resettled in Metro Detroit, primarily in Troy, Clinton Township and Dearborn, according to the state department.

The Troy area is the No. 1 destination for Syrian refugees in Michigan, where 647 have taken up residence between May 2011 and Tuesday, according to the state department. Clinton Township is second with 452 and Dearborn has 364.

Like Kalasho, Carmen Bordea, a program coordinator for Samaritas, said she thought the meeting was successful.

“I’m glad to see collaboration is being made official,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.”