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Tariq (not his real name) first stepped foot on American soil on January 21, 2016, after three long years spent as a refugee in limbo in Turkey. Originally from Mosul, Iraq, he said, through an interpreter, he escaped his hometown and home country "due to the threat of terrorism and the violence of the groups in the area." He was also working with American groups in Iraq, making him more of a target, he said.
"And because I am a Christian, I felt more threatened," he said. When his wife was threatened and intimidated when she was at the university, it became clear – they had to flee their homeland.
Tariq arrived at Detroit Metropolitan Airport with his wife and two young children, where he was met by a caseworker from Samaritas, formerly Lutheran Social Services, and volunteers who helped set them up in an apartment in Sterling Heights, where there is a large community of Iraqis, many who, like Tariq's family, are Chaldeans, or Iraqi Christians. They came with no family ties, knowing no one but each other.
Samaritas, along with Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and Jewish Family Service of Ann Arbor, are approved by the United States government to provide resettlement to refugees of all ages, from countries around the world that have been torn apart by war, persecution and strife. The difference between an immigrant and a refugee is that an immigrant is someone who chooses to move to another country, versus a refugee, who leaves their home country due to war or political unrest, and feels they cannot return due to fear of persecution because of their race, religion, ethnicity or political affiliations.
Leaving a country as a refugee is not a simple, or quick, process.
"The immigration process is lengthy and takes years," said Kimberly Hassan, program coordinator for the Arab American and Chaldean Council (ACC). "It's done through the United Nations and Department of Homeland Security, and it's a series of interviews and background checks. If the interviews aren't done, because of security issues in the region, they're put on hold. If government issues or safety and security are not safe for the interviewer, it's put on hold. There's no rushing any of the process. Someone from the UN goes out, into the refugee camps, or wherever, and interviews the clients, and if the area isn't safe, because they're not always in stable governmental areas, the process is on hold.
"When numbers (of refugees) are slower, the State Department responds by saying the area where the refugees are isn't safe for the interviewers to go out and interview them," Hassan said. "For refugees, on average, it's a years-long process. For some, they wait 10 years."...continued on page 2