As natural and political disasters reshape whole countries and families flee in the wake of real danger, many Western cities feel the ripple effects as an influx of refugees.
Recently, the United States has seen an increase in refugees from both Afghanistan and Haiti, after a tense regime change and a devastating earthquake, respectively. Those families caught in the (often literal) crossfire have made exhausting moves to new homes.
“Try being 16, going through everything you’re feeling at that age, and then having to relocate,” says Deb Drennan, the CEO of Freedom House located in Detroit, which provides housing, legal aid and basic service to individuals and families seeking asylum in the United States.
“A lot of times there are misunderstandings with refugees and immigrants,” Drennan says. “Sometimes there are good intentions but not accurate information — an asylum seeker is a refugee that had to flee their country.”
Drennan says that communicating with your children about refugees can prevent those misunderstandings and is “essential.”
“It broadens awareness and knowledge and it’s an opportunity for parents and families to learn about a different culture,” she says. “There is sometimes a lot of reluctance to interact because of the language barrier, but kids pick it up so quickly.”
As refugees enter communities, Drennan says it’s important for parents to stay involved in the schools so they know when new students arrive and what support they need.
“If there’s someone new in the neighborhood, can you find out if they need shoes or clothes?” she says. “There are many lovely opportunities to exchange with your neighbors though your children.”
“Or share a meal – prepare something and you exchange a dish that’s customary in your house, or walk your neighbors through the grocery store, or show them where the bus is,” she adds.
Drennan says having a conversation with your children about how to welcome those new students into the school can be fun, too.
“You can ask the child, ‘Where are they from? Let’s look it up on the map!'” she says. “You can allow children to become excited about these different cultures, because they’re learning and that’s an exciting thing.”
For younger children, emphasizing that they are safe while you communicate about refugees is important, while for older children and teenagers, giving them the option to volunteer can help them feel that they are making a difference.
Local Organizations that Support Refugees and Immigrants
Freedom House works to help refugees of all ages with basic human needs such as food, shelter, clothing and housing relocations. Plus, legal aid, employment readiness, medical care and cross cultural understanding. They accept volunteers to work as interpreters and translators and to help run the yearly fundraising event.
Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center
The Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center provides free legal aid for a variety of services. Families and individuals can find help with immigration, deportation and naturalization, landlord-tenant issues, unfair employment practices and more. They also assist with DACA renewals, adjustment of status, special immigrant visas, family-based visas, employment-based visas, asylum, immigration appeals, and temporary protected status.
The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants provides low-cost legal aid for low-income individuals as well as health and wellness, housing, interpreting and employment services. The organization’s focus is “refugee resettlement and warehousing, child migration, environmental migrants, asylum rights and trafficking in persons.”
Global Detroit advocates for the inclusion and support of immigrants in Southeast Michigan’s economy. The organization also provides a program called the Global Entrepreneur in Residence, creating a pathway for foreign-born entrepreneurs to launch companies in the United States by pairing them with mentors. The group also helps match small immigrant businesses to funding opportunities.
Washtenaw Refugee Welcome
Washtenaw Refugee Welcome is a volunteer-run organization dedicated to long term support of refugees in Washtenaw County. The group assists with English language services, searching for employment, transportation needs, housing and furniture sourcing, understanding public and social services and finding appropriate seasonal clothing. The group also throws community events.
The Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services offers a number of services, including immigration assistance. Immigration services are provided by specialists who are certified and accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Immigration specialists working with ACCESS are able to represent clients in immigration courts, but the service is not free – the organization uses a sliding-scale for low-income clients. ACCESS specialists can help with naturalization, family reunification, permanent residency, visas, adjustment status, National Visa Center processing forms and more.
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