Spotlight on Syrian Refugees


Michigan prepares

Part of the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s care for immigrants and refugees is facilitated by a network of clinics known as Justice For Our Neighbors.Michigan stands ready to assist through the services of Justice for Our Neighbors. JFON is a legal ministry supported by the United Methodist Church to provide free legal services to immigrants in need.

Director of Justice for our Neighbors Southeastern Michigan (JFON-SEMI), Tori Booker, reports: “Currently, our attorney is representing a family from Syria with their political asylum application and is ready to serve others. We are also prepared to help Syrian families apply for Temporary Protected Status now that Congress has authorized this form of relief.” Apart from providing free legal services, JFON also operates “in a climate of intentional hospitality through our clinics, which are hosted by United Methodist churches. Tori remarks, “Clients who are nervous or frightened arrive at our clinics and are greeted with friendly faces, snacks and an attitude of welcome.”

Laura Rampersad, JFON West Michigan’s Director, adds: “As far as immediate response to Syrian crisis there will be a need for church placements for new arrivals. Congregations should consider answering the call if Congress increases refugees allowed into U.S.” She lists “housing, employment and school as immediate needs of families navigating immigration issues.” JFON West Michigan has strong ties to the two major regional refugee resettlement agencies in Bethany Christian Services and Lutheran Social Services.

Chris Cavanaugh, Program Manager of Refugee Services for Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, says, “We have been gearing up statewide for a resettlement program for Syrians, meeting with local Syrian-Americans, Syrian professionals, and the Islamic Center. We have resettled a few cases here in Grand Rapids and almost 60 Syrians in Detroit.”

Cavanaugh believes there is strong precedent for increased mobilization: “After the Vietnam War the U.S. was able to be very responsive and resettled over 200,000 ‘boat people.’ There is much similarity to what we are seeing in Europe,” he notes. He encourages interested individuals to consider sponsorship, describing the refugees’ situation this way: “Syrians have experienced high trauma and they need mental health support. They have a strong willingness to be contributing members of the community with eagerness to work and integrate.” Churches are uniquely positioned to facilitate integration. “The best way to help them integrate is just to get to know them and help them out with everyday things we take for granted,” Cavanaugh concludes.

~Michigan Area News Editor Kay DeMoss contributed to this report

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