Snyder in talks on resettling Syrian refugees in Mich.

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder said Tuesday his administration is in talks with the federal government about resettling refugees from war-torn Syria in Michigan.

Snyder disclosed the discussions are underway Tuesday while addressing the first meeting of the Commission on Middle-Eastern American Affairs the governor created earlier this year.

“We’re having a good discussion with the federal government, understanding their process,” Snyder said after the meeting. “What we want to do is to make sure if there’s an opportunity to help, we can be proactive on this. So we are exploring that.”

But the Republican governor, who has actively sought more visas for legal immigrants to settle in Detroit, said there are legal barriers to letting Syrians seek political asylum in Michigan.

“It can take 18 to 24 months of review on someone’s background,” Snyder told reporters.

The Detroit News reported Sept. 21 on the story of a Syrian family that waited 19 months to get clearance to leave Turkey and resettle in Detroit.

About 4,000 refugees from war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa resettled in Michigan last year, according to data from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. In addition to Syria, refugees are coming from other regions of Iraq and other regions controlled by Islamic State militants.

Michigan is limited to accepting 4,200 refugees per year by the federal government, according to Snyder’s office.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama’ administration initially committed to accept at least 10,000 more Syrian refugees during the next year. The U.S. will accept 85,000 refugees from around the world in 2016, up from 70,000, and that total would rise to 100,000 in 2017, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced earlier this month.

The U.S. is on track to accept about 1,500 Syrians this year, according to White House, but that’s merely a fraction of the 11.6 million people who have been displaced from their homes during the brutal 4 1/2-year civil war in Syria.

Abe Munfakh, a member of the commission from Plymouth, said he has some distant cousins who remain in “very bad shape in Syria” and welcomed the governor’s refugee efforts.

“There’s a lot of talent that could be brought in,” Munfakh said.

Resettlement inside the U.S. is influenced by several factors, including whether the refugee has relatives living in the U.S. already, and the capacity of the resettlement agencies in local communities to handle individual or special cases and languages spoken.

The Detroit-Dearborn-Warren area is home to the fourth-largest population of Syrian immigrants in the U.S. (approximately 3,000) behind Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, according to federal data.

Haifa Fakhouri, president and founder of the Arab American and Chaldean Council, has proposed real estate developers and government agencies coordinate a “Northtown” refugee resettlement in Detroit along Seven Mile between Woodward and John R.

“Michigan has been a welcoming place in the past, but we have a fair amount of work to do if we’d like to be more active on that,” Snyder told the commission. “... Because shouldn’t we help people in need around the word and show that outreach? Because we would like to be treated that way if we ever found ourselves in that circumstance.”

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Detroit News Staff Writer Jennifer Chambers contributed.