By ROHITHA EDARA
Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan nonprofit organizations are preparing for an influx of Syrian refugees after the U.S. Senate rejected a bill that would stop them from entering the country.
“We are expecting a new wave of refugees, especially that of Syrians,” said Ken Fouty, community outreach coordinator at Lutheran Social Services of Michigan based in Detroit. “We anticipate that it will happen in the summer.”
About 100 Syrian refugees were resettled by his organization in 2015. It is prepared to take about 300 more in response to the refugee crisis in Syria, he said.
Michigan took in 180 refugees in total in 2015, said Erica Quealy, marketing specialist at the Department of Health and Human Services. “Given the national ceiling sent by the federal government has been increased and our normal arrival numbers, we expect resettlement to return to the 4,000 to 4,500 level in 2016.”
Eleven Michigan organizations have agreed to help settle Syrian refugees, according to the Health and Human Services.
While these organizations are increasing the number of Syrian refugees that they resettle, they are creating outreach programs where local communities meet them and understand their struggles.
“The programs are important because of the negative statements made by elected officials and presidential candidates, as well as state governors, who are unnecessarily targeting refugees, especially Syrian refugees,” said Christine Sauve, southeast Michigan communities coordinator for the Welcoming Michigan program at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. This group works with 11 communities and counties, including Detroit, Clinton County, Lansing, Meridian Township, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo County, to integrate refugees into their community.
The Syrian refugees are seen as people to be afraid of, and misconceptions about security measures exist, Sauve said. “Sometimes we hear, ‘Oh! But aren’t they associated with ISIS?’ Well, the reality is that Syrian refugees are fleeing ISIS themselves. So that couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
For this reason, education and awareness programs could help in integrating Syrian refugees into local communities.
“People understand better once they meet the refugees and hear their stories and journeys,” Sauve said. “Many of them have had their houses bombed. They have lost family members. They leave with very little except their clothes and children. And many of them have lived in refugee camps, for some as many as 10 years.”
It is also a common misconception that the current security clearance process is not sufficient to keep terrorists away, Sauve said.
But refugee resettlement agencies believe the contrary. For most refugee groups, entering the U.S. is a 13-step process, Fouty said. For Syrians there is another step for security checks because of their country’s association with ISIS and the negative image created against Muslims by politicians like Donald Trump.
The local communities might not agree.
“We are getting a large outcry from the community to support refugees and especially Syrians. They are not agreeing with politicians who are being negative,” said Judi Harris, Refugee Resettlement Director at St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing.
“We never had any problem in Michigan with refugees and the clearance process,” Sauve said. “It takes at least two years for the security clearance process to be completed and multiple checks by the Federal Bureau Investigation, Department of Homeland Security andinternational terror watch groups.”
By ROHITHA EDARA