Iraqi refugees overwhelm Detroit-area nonprofits — and are they Christian?

The headline of the Assyrian International News Agency article is actually Thousands of Iraqi Refugees Overwhelm Service Agencies in Detroit.  But I knew you would think that meant government welfare agencies, while it really means private self-help  groups. It begins:

Prior to 2006, strict immigration policies didn’t allow refugees fleeing the violence in Iraq to enter the United States. In 2007, a more lenient “open door” policy was implemented, allowing thousands of Iraqis –15,000 in 2009 alone– to settle in the Detroit area. Now, local Arab community groups that stepped up to help the refugees say they are overwhelmed by the burden of taking care of the new arrivals.

In a recent interview on WDET’s Detroit Today, Joseph Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America, and Abdallah Boumediene, from the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services [ACCESS], acknowledged that the Arab community in Michigan can’t deal with the crisis by itself.

With little to no support from the local, state or federal governments, Detroit’s Middle Eastern community has to deal with providing thousands of displaced Iraqis with housing, health care, education, transportation and jobs.

Assyrians are Christian, though the website never seems to mention the word. And of the two groups mentioned, Chaldeans are Christian, and have been settling in Michigan for many decades. I can’t tell about the other group, ACCESS. Abdallah must be a Muslim name. The site itself doesn’t mention either “Muslim” or “Christian,” but its calendar shows events for Caldeans and Maronites, who are Christian, and also a celebration of Iftar, a Muslim holiday.

I started to post just on the original article, but got sidetracked on this Christian-Muslim question because it intrigued me. At first I thought the groups mentioned must be Christian, because Muslims generally aren’t shy about proclaiming their religion, whereas Christians might be, having been persecuted in the Middle East for so long. Usually inter-faith groups like to give that fact prominence: it’s so heartwarming, especially to entities that hand out money. But perhaps Christian and Muslim Arabs in Michigan, or some among them, work together amicably in ACCESS, and don’t wish to trumpet this cooperation to the world. Muslims, especially, would catch hell from some of their co-religionists for working closely with Christians, while the Christians might have their sanity questioned. Maybe somebody who knows more can let us know.

Now, to get on with the report:

Local non-profits are not only dealing with resettling the newly arrived, they’re also trying to cope with serious mental health issues suffered by many refugees. Iraqis often have had family members kidnapped, tortured or killed. Families experience depression, loneliness and the post-traumatic stress caused by living in a war-torn country.

“We deal with tragic situations and stories of people who have gone through horrendous experiences,” Boumediene said.

The agencies say they are committed to fully supporting the newly arrived, despite what they say is a lack of support from the government.

“We don’t want to re-victimize these people,” Kassab said. “These people are victims of torture, victims of persecution, victims of failed policies and therefore they should be helped.”

This does sound more Christian than Muslim, but who knows? At any rate, praise to these groups, whatever religion they are, who are trying to do what should be done, without much government help.

Ann previously posted on the Chaldeans in Michigan in 2008, here, and pointed out that the community was helping the refugees, not the government. And a later post pointed out that although the State Department had stopped settling refugees in Detroit, Iraqis settled in other areas of the country went there on their own. And why not? It sounds as if the Chaldeans and perhaps other groups there have the best resettlement program in the country.

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