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More refugees coming to Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo areas

Sep 7, 2016

If you live in the Ann Arbor or Kalamazoo areas, you're getting some new neighbors: Syrian refugees.

More and more refugees have been coming into the state this summer as the federal government rushes to meet its yearly goal. And interfaith groups in both the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area and Kalamazoo got together and said, hey, we want to help.

Brian Weinert says he’s part of a “ragtag army” of volunteers who make up the Washtenaw Refugee Welcome group, which reached out to Samaritas, a refugee resettlement agency based in the Detroit area.

“We’re there to be there as a longer-term support network, as [refugees] become our neighbors,” Weinert says. “Sometimes that will be something very specific, that requires a professional skill set to provide – oh gosh, I don’t know, banking or accounting or real estate or psychological counseling – and have connections in the community.

“As well as…make people feel welcome and support them in the more mundane ways: donating furnishings, getting them to and from appointments, riding the bus with them until they get comfortable with public transportation.”

And that encouraged Samaritas to expand its resettlement efforts in the great Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas, says Ken Fouty, the outreach coordinator for Samaritas.

Fouty says it’s not unusual to have a single congregation offer to help, say, co-sponsor a family’s resettlement. But with this effort, they’re hoping to do something bigger.

"How about working with us to really resettle a population of folks?” he says. “And so helping us around those areas of affordable housing, employment, transportation, medical services, education."

Chris Cavanaugh, a director of resettlement for Samaritas, says the Kalamazoo Refugee Council and several religious groups in that area have expressed their desire to welcome more refugees in that area.

“[That’s meant] even go to the airport, help us collect donations to set up the home, do follow-up home visits, and really just walk them through what it means to live in the United States, particularly in that area of Kalamazoo,” he says.

Of course other agencies, like Bethany Christian Services and Jewish Family Services, already help to resettle refugees in those communities.  

And Samaritas says it’s starting small with this expansion at first, with just about a dozen additional refugee families in the Kalamazoo area this summer, and a target of about 100 new refugees resettled in the Ann Arbor area next year.

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