Think of all the things we pack up just to enjoy a weekend away -- our best clothes, a few pairs of shoes, special jewelry or accessories, favorite snacks, and, of course, our beloved cellphone and plenty of extra money. Forgetting a toothbrush or extra pair of socks can be enough to cause angst, even though they’re easily replaced.
Now, imagine leaving the only home you’ve ever known with nothing more than the clothes on your back. You have no money, no food, no treasured keepsakes. You’re not sure where you’re going or even how you will get there, what (and if) you will eat and where (or when) you will sleep. You only know that to stay means probable death and definite persecution.
That is the stark reality for 28,300 people each day around the world who are forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees says we are currently witnessing the highest displacement on record, with 65.6 million people forced from their homes, including 22.5 million refugees, more than half of whom are younger than 18.
June 20th marks the 17th U.N.-initiated World Refugee Day to honor the courage, strength and determination of people who bravely leave their homes for the promise of a safer life somewhere else. We at Samaritas happily mark the occasion. As Michigan’s largest refugee resettlement agency and the nation’s fourth-largest, we have resettled thousands of people from around the world since 1949.
Refugees are people who are forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. Refugees have a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Unlike the “typical” immigrant, who chooses to move to a new country for education, employment or other factors that build a better way of life, refugees have no choice and cannot return home, or are afraid to do so.
Our New Americans Program helps newly arrived refugees navigate their confusing first few months in Michigan. With the support of seven federal agencies, and our national partners, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and Episcopal Migration Ministries, we provide vulnerable people with essential services and supports needed to begin to rebuild their lives.
According to available statistics, 21,466 refugees were resettled into Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties between 2007-2016. At Samaritas in 2017, our Troy office helped more than 300 refugees, the Grand Rapids location assisted 200, and almost 70 were aided at our Battle Creek branch. That’s nearly 600 people representing 13 nations and five religions.
These folks eagerly acculturate to American life and become productive members of their communities. We help them learn English, find work (some eventually create their own businesses), revitalize neighborhoods and strengthen the tax base.
According to Global Detroit, refugees resettled in Southeast Michigan over the past decade generated between $229.6 million and $295.3 million in new spending, along with between 1,798 and 2,311 jobs, in 2016 alone.
As the old saying goes, “Give a man a fish and he eats for the day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” At Samaritas, we n