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Advocates urge Gov. Snyder to reconsider "hasty" decision on Syrian refugees

Nov 16, 2015

Volunteers help Syrian refugee children celebrate the Muslim holiday Eid al-adha at a school in suburban Detroit in September, 2015.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s Syrian American community and its supporters are urging Governor Snyder to resume efforts to re-settle refugees in the state.

Snyder had taken a welcoming stance toward Syrian refugees.

But he’s withdrawing that welcome, at least temporarily, in light of last week’s terrorist attacks overseas.

Hassan Jaber, executive director of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services in Dearborn, called Snyder’s move “hasty.”

“We are disappointed with the decision, and we are frankly surprised with the decision,” said Jaber. “The governor is someone who understands the value of immigrants."

Jaber said the decision unfairly paints refugees as security threats responsible for the “horrible situation” in Paris.

Jaber and other refugee advocates also suggest that a “robust” security vetting process already exists for refugees coming to the U.S.

Reem Akkad, a volunteer with the Metro Detroit-based Syrian American Rescue Network, says there’s “a world of difference” between the refugee situations in Europe and the U.S.

“There really is not a systematic organization [in Europe], they are pretty overwhelmed over there,” Akkad said. “On the flip side, here in the United States, the process is pretty lengthy. The families who have arrived here in the United States actually go through up to two years of security checks, background checks, and 5-6 interviews.”

The Syrian American Rescue Network has helped 35 families re-settle in Michigan since April, and expect five more to arrive soon. Akkad says the group will continue to support them as they transition to their new lives. 

But larger preparations for an expected influx of refugees next year — including plans to build a new refugee housing community around an abandoned Pontiac elementary school — look more uncertain now.

Akkad insists Syrian refugee advocates “totally understand” the heightened security concerns. “I want to make sure my children are safe, too,” she says. “But I think we need to look at the security process we have in place, rather than just shut the door on the whole process.”

Gov. Snyder clarified on Monday that he’s only hitting the “pause” button on bringing in refugees until federal officials can review security procedures.

In the meantime, both Jaber and Akkad said their organizations will try to “engage” the governor’s office on the issue.