Symposium explores why refugees left Syria (and how they are placed in the US)

A Thursday Syrian refugee symposium hosted by Christ Church Cranbrook, Bloomfield Hills featured a panel of experts outlining the refugee experience — from why they uproot from their homes to the dangerous journey they take and where they end up.

In addition, the event wanted to explain how Syrians have been and should continue to be welcomed locally.

“We want to make our community welcoming and embracing of Syrian refugees,” said moderator Andy Meisner, Oakland County treasurer.

Oakland County treasurer Andy Meisner served as event moderator.

Although Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made news recently when he expressed a desire to temporarily halt or slow the process of bringing refugees to Michigan, much of the symposium discussed the vetting process which allows refugees to be placed in the United States. It also provided background on the origination of the refugees.

Kenan Basha, born and raised in the Detroit area, talked about his experience of growing up in a Syrian-American family. He also offered insight about what remains of Syria and gave good reasons for why there’s an exodus out of the country.

“In four years, it’s fair to say the country has been completely ravaged. There’s no data, but at least 350,000 have been killed,” Basha said. “That’s 2 percent. That’s been going on systematically over the last four years.”

With most health centers shut down and 70 percent of Syria’s health professionals gone, along with an evaporation of the job market, it’s understandable why there is little to stay for in Syria, he added.

Jeralda Hattar, the director of immigration and refugee services at Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, helps with the resettlement of refugees locally. Her organization (along with Lutheran Social Services of Michigan) originally worked extensively with Vietnamese refugees in the early 1970s. In the past eight years, the state of Michigan has taken an average of 4,000 refugees annually.

That number will grow this year.

“I’ve seen enough videos and heard enough stories about the conditions they live through, waiting to be resettled,” Hattar said. “It’s really sad to hear the things these children have witnessed.”

Among the things considered when placing refugees are points like family members already being in the United States and finding a community which offers a good fit for their culture. Locally, the goal is to help find quality housing in cities such as Dearborn, Hamtramck, Bloomfield Hills and Pontiac.

“Our goal is to assist them with affordable housing and with a support system around them,” Hattar said.

Once the refugees have relocated locally, it’s important they have avenues to proper health care.

“In a mental health stigma, a person perceives themselves as unstable because they label themselves. They say they’re bipolar, instead of staying they have a bipolar disorder,” said Arwa Abduljabbar, a therapist at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (known as ACCESS). She noted many refugees live through harrowing experiences, which produce mental health challenges. “Stigma brings feelings of shame, hopelessness and having a low self-esteem. As doctors, we need to build up their self esteem.”