Politics & Government
7:00 am
Mon June 23, 2014

Detroit suburbs see influx of Iraqis as global refugee population soars

Playing games during the World Refugee Day picnic at Warren's Hamlich Park.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of people gathered at a Warren park this past weekend for a picnic celebrating World Refugee Day--and the area’s growing refugee community.

According to state data, of the 4658 refugees re-settled in Michigan last year, nearly three-quarters are from Iraq.

And many of them have settled in Macomb County suburbs, particularly Sterling Heights and Warren.

Christine Sauve is Southeast Communities Coordinator for the Welcoming Michigan Project, which helps new immigrants connect with native-born Americans in their communities.

The group expects southeast Michigan to continue seeing “a steady stream” of refugees fleeing ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.

“It’s usually about a year to two years behind,” Sauve says. “So right now, the agencies are starting to see more Syrian refugees. Probably in another year or so, we’ll see even more Iraqis based on what’s going on now.”

Sauve says Michigan accepts about 6% of all refugees coming to the US. In addition to Iraqis, the state has absorbed smaller numbers of refugees from Myanmar, Bhutan, Somalia, and Congo.

Refugees are often directed to areas where there are well-established service agencies to help them re-settle. In southeast Michigan’s Chaldean (Iraqi Christian) and larger Arab-American community, there are a number of agencies that have helped waves of refugees from the Middle East over many decades.

Sauve says Macomb County’s Iraqi population really began to grow over the past decade. As community institutions and small businesses catering to that community have sprung up, it becomes an even more attractive destination for other Iraqi refugees.

“Even if they were re-settled somewhere else, they often move to this area because the community is already here,” Sauve says. “They have relatives here, or people they know from back home.”

Refugee agencies are struggling to help growing numbers of displaced people around the world, especially in the Middle East and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

In a report released for World Refugee Day last week, the United Nations said the global refugee population recently surged past 50 million people for the first time since World War II.