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Refugees in Southeast Michigan

Samaritas Integrating Over 3,000 Refugees Per Year into Metro Detroit Communities


Thousands of refugees arrive in Michigan from different parts of the world each year, and Michigan State officials expect the numbers to continue climbing.

Under Section 101(a)(42) of the INA, a refugee is a person who, generally, has experienced past persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion and flees their location to seek freedom from this.

Samaritas is a Michigan non-profit that provides refugee services – among other things – for individuals and families. It has been operating for over 90 years.

DII spoke to its director, Mihaela Mitrofan about how refugees come into their care, and the process, challenges, and successes of integrating them into Southeast Michigan communities.

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Q: What was the impetus behind Samaritas?

A: Samaritas is a human services organization that provides services and care to families and children within four pillars: Child and Family Services; Refugee Services; Mental Health and Addiction Services; and Housing.

Q: How do refugees come to be in the care of Samaritas?

A: There are a few avenues.

First, Michigan has a reception and placement program that is funded by the government and is a cooperative agreement with national resettlement agencies. Samaritas is a local partner that gets referred. Once someone is registered overseas and goes through the background checks and processes, they are referred to local resettlement agencies such as Samaritas.

Another avenue is the asylum process. These individuals enter the company through different visas and the process can take a few years. Samaritas works to help them with employment, readiness, cultural integration and assists them in navigating the different systems – all in an effort to help individuals become fully integrated and economically self-sufficient.

We also recently added a Private Sponsorship Program that matches refugees with a sponsoring group or individual or family.

Q: How many families are in your care currently in Southeast Michigan?

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A: Approximately 100. Refugee resettlement arrivals are high at this time, as we continue to service Afghanistans, and Ukrainians and other groups.

Q: Where do most of the refugees settle?

A: A vast majority of the refugees in our care find homes in Wayne County. We also work on many placements in Dearborn and Detroit. We also have significant placement in Macomb and Oakland counties and are expanding our placement in Genesee County.

Q: How many refugees do you help each year in Southeast Michigan?

A: We serve over 3,000 refugees per year.

Q: What are the biggest challenges when it comes to integration?

A: Language. Refugees have a strong drive to learn typically, but it takes time.

They come to us with layers of trauma. Of course, there is the trauma experienced in their previous living environment. Add to this their journey and the complicated processes to get refugee status. Add to that the pressure to get a job as soon as possible, secure housing and get their kids in school and the pressure increases even further. So learning a new language on top of all of these things is a challenge.

Another great challenge is transportation. Metro Detroit does not have a robust public transit system so helping refugees access affordable transportation is difficult to navigate.

Q: What is your approach to addressing these things?

A: We are resourceful.

When it comes to language, we have integrated an English component in our digital assistance. We help families and individuals access resources. We donate laptops and help with connectivity costs during the first month of use. We provide education to navigate the internet and access online resources. Luckily, employers are becoming more and more interested in hiring refugees and they recognize that learning English is a barrier but a critical piece, so many employers are offering paid time for employees to participate in classes.

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We also have volunteers and organized groups that provide wrap-around support.

When it comes to transportation, we have a coordinator who pieces together our client’s needs and matches them to resources. We have a handful of our own vehicles. We provide funds for short-term transportation such as Uber and Lyft. We also have a driving simulator, generously donated by Verizon, to get individuals familiar behind the wheel to prepare them for driving school.

Q: What would the future of these refugees look like if it were not for Samaritas?

A: It would take much longer to become integrated. Refugees could fall victim to mistakes on applications that may delay the process. Hopelessness and depression can kick in quickly. Samaritas works to provide a warm embrace and create care and a service plan that sets clear objectives. We work with individuals to understand their path and we walk alongside them on that path.

Q: You have been at Samaritas for 27 years. Where does your passion come from?

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A: I’m an immigrant myself. Samaritas was the first organization that offered me a professional position back in 1996. I have experienced confusion and frustration when it comes to integrating into a community, so having that experience helps me stay motivated to help others.

Q: How has the refugee situation and your work changed over the years?

A: It has changed a lot. The common thread is – that as long as there is conflict in world, and wars and persecution there will be refugees.

Over time, I’ve seen different groups emerge because of conflicts happening overseas. We have a more diversified caseload these days. But I’ve been able to witness and be a part of many positive stories of families that have become integrated very successfully into their communities, so that’s very fulfilling.

To support Samaritas, go to samaritas.org.


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