As the conflict in Ukraine rages on, some Michigan organizations foresee an influx of refugees coming to the state.
But another war has already driven thousands of refugees here — those who fled when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last fall.
Agencies like Samaritas are helping resettle those people. But a Detroit choir is also lending an important hand.
Diane Linn, the president of the Community Chorus of Detroit, says her group is working with a three-generation Afghan family trying to integrate themselves into the U.S. culture.
Listen: Diane Linn on how the Community Chorus of Detroit is helping a three-generation family settle in Michigan.
Diane Linn, president, Community Chorus of Detroit (edited for clarity): We’re in charge of working with the family directly. Samaritas does the administrative work. And they also provide a lot of support for the family, some financial, but also support in terms of getting their paperwork done, getting Social Security cards, Bridge Cards, all this stuff that the family needs. And then we are responsible, our team from the Community Chorus of Detroit, for teaching them English, helping the children get settled in school, although Samaritan handles the administration part of getting the children enrolled. But making sure that they’re comfortable with their teacher and helping the parents to understand what’s going on. And getting them driver’s ed and helping them to buy a car and that type of thing. So, we handle the kind of personal end of it and the interaction with the family and seeing to their needs. And we are with them for the first six months to a year. And then, after that, to the extent we would like to be. But we have promised at least six months, and I have personally committed to a year.
Quinn Klinefelter, WDET News: And this family, they really are arriving here and starting from ground zero in terms of being in the U.S.?
Oh, absolutely zero. They really have nothing. They left under duress, in the fall, when we all saw on television the horrendous pictures of people handing their children over the fence to American soldiers they didn’t know. The older dad in the family (was working with the U.S.). This is a three-generation family. There’s the older dad and mom and their nine kids. And then the younger family with three little ones, including a baby born last week. One of the sons very proudly, on his phone, showed me a picture of a medal and it looked like some type of American Medal of Honor for service. And that was given to the older father in the family, who was helping the American military in Afghanistan. And at some point in an explosion of some kind or gunfire, I’m not sure exactly what the cause was, he completely lost the use of his right arm. He has a terrible scar on the upper arm. And he has lost the use of his hand. He also has vision impairment when the bone under his eye was hit. So he’s paid a great price to help us. And it’s meaningful to me to pay that forward to thank him in some way for probably saving American lives overseas. I think we all owe all of these refugees a great debt. So, I work with all of them. I’m teaching them English as a second language (ESL) right now, along with some of our other team members. We have 25 people from the chorus who have signed up,
“When we started hearing about these terrible situations overseas, in Afghanistan and now Ukraine, we became committed to the idea of doing something that was personal, and meaningful and direct.” —Diane Linn, the president of the Community Chorus of Detroit
How did the choir from here, from Detroit, actually get involved with this?
The choir has a history of community service and [being involved] in social justice issues. So we’ve done a lot of outreach to various different communities in need in the city. And when we started hearing about these terrible situations overseas, in Afghanistan and now Ukraine, we became committed to the idea of doing something that was personal, and meaningful and direct. We can all send checks and that’s certainly a worthy thing to do. But we wanted to do something more immediate, where we could actually see the impact. And that has definitely been the case with this family.
You see these tragic scenes of [refugees] being involved in warfare and having to flee from their countries and all the horrid circumstances that seem to surround that. When they actually do get here though, the things that they must undergo trying to reintegrate into any kind of society, from you seeing it firsthand, it must be fairly rough for the family.
I think it’s extremely difficult. And I give this family so much credit. There are 16 of them in the family because it’s a three-generation family. They are the most loving, calm, cheerful, appreciative people you could ever meet. And yet they came here with nothing. They have no idea what lies ahead for them in terms of employment or adjusting to our culture. Or in terms of how their children will fare or what jobs they’ll be doing a year from now, if their neighborhood will be good and the people there will be nice to them. They don’t know anything. They were farmers in Afghanistan. And my understanding from them, and we’ve done this through a translator so I don’t have it 100% but I think I have it 95%, they had a large home and it was bombed. And so they left. And then, from what I understand, they were basically moving from place to place to place to secure their own safety because they were in danger. Because the older husband in the family was helping Americans.
“It’s meaningful to me to pay that forward to thank [an Afghan refugee who helped the U.S. military in Afghanistan] in some way for probably saving American lives overseas. I think we all owe all of these refugees a great debt.” —Diane Linn, the president of the Community Chorus of Detroit
You see things happening now in Ukraine. And the president has said that we would accept up to 100,000 refugees from there, even though millions and millions have been displaced. But when you’re talking about the Afghanistan people that could be coming, I almost wonder if some of that’s getting lost in the shuffle because there’s so much attention on Ukraine now. Have you had any trouble trying to get things set up for them with all these other conflicts still underway?
No, fortunately. In fact, the city is helping to pay for their rent for a very limited time. And the federal government is helping and Samaritas is helping. We sent out a letter to all of our friends and all of our choristers in the Community Chorus of Detroit and we have just been flooded. People are sending generous checks. In the meantime they have a Bridge Card. But this is a huge family. They’re going to need extra food. They’re going to need clothing. There are all kinds of expenses they’ll have. I checked with the Detroit public schools because they will be living in Detroit at two houses just down the street from each other. I called the Detroit public schools to find out if they had an ESL program. Well, sure enough, they not only have an ESL program, they have one specifically for the Afghan refugee population, for the children.
They have one set up specifically for people from Afghanistan?
Yes. Because there are so many children coming in.