Flint, MI—Flint has joined Grand Rapids, Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Lansing as a city willing to receive Afghan refugees arriving in Michigan in the coming months.
A month after the United States officially pulled its troops from Afghanistan, the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity announced that approximately 1300 Afghan refugees would be resettled in Michigan. After the announcement, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neely said he reached out to the federal government to see how the city could help.
“We open our arms as a community. We reached out to the federal government and other partners to say that Flint is willing to be a recipient of some of those refugees. … As American citizens we cannot forget our allies,” Neely said.
For the last two months, Neely said, the city has been working with community partners like the International Center of Greater Flint and the Arab American Heritage Council on getting ahold of the resources necessary to welcome the incoming refugees.
The exact number of refugees expected to arrive in Michigan ranges from 1300 to 1600. Grand Rapids plans on taking in approximately 400 of these refugees. The Ann Arbor and Lansing areas will be taking in about 300 refugees each. The remaining refugees will be split between Flint and Detroit.
The amount of refugees coming to Flint remains unknown. Neely said the city and its partners are currently working on coming up with a number based on the number of resources available to them.
“We will welcome as many refugees as we can safely. We still have to work on our housing stock and try to figure out how the community will support this influx of people. We’re working on that number and we are calculating that data now to see how many families we can actually support,” Neely said.
Phyllis Sykes, executive director of the International Center for Greater Flint, said the city has until February to prepare for the incoming refugees. She said during the last few months, the city has been in touch with the governor’s office in anticipation of their arrival and that securing short- and long-term housing is one of its top priorities.
Precise details on where in Flint refugees will be housed have yet to be announced.
Sykes also said there are several other accommodations that need to be accounted for before the city starts receiving refugees.
“We have to have healthcare in place, the school systems ready to accommodate, the employment picture in place. We’ve got to have English as a second language in place as well. Those kinds of services need to be ready right out of the gate because you know, these are people that came with just the clothes on their backs,” Sykes said.
Sykes expressed concerns with how the community would react to the news of Afghan refugees coming to Flint, saying up until this point, those involved with planning for their arrival have hesitated to make anything public. Sykes said as it stands, she is not even certain if Flint will be able to house many people if any at all.
“The concern is we could possibly get pushback. I know there will be pushback from some folks. That’s why we haven’t made this public knowledge yet. We don’t even know yet if we are in a situation where we can receive them, Sykes said.
Devin Bathish, executive director of the Arab American Heritage Council said he shares these concerns about pushback with other community partners like Sykes.
As someone with experience in resettlement efforts, having worked with Syrian refugees in Ypsilanti during his time in college, Bathish said he is anticipating concerns from citizens regarding the allocation of resources like housing and food.
“This is more about what we want the city to be rather than where we currently are. The biggest thing is that Flint has this really big history of welcoming immigrants … that’s part of the reason there were so many autoworkers in Flint in addition to the communities of color that were already here,” Bathish said.
Bathish added that many of the ideals the city touts, mainly those of diversity, equity and inclusion, line up with the decision to establish Flint as a resettlement community.
He also made the argument that due to the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan over the years, the country as a whole has a responsibility to receive the victims of war and displacement caused by that involvement.
“Part of the difficulty with the Afghanistan Situation is that the United States has a fundamental duty to receive actually anyone from Afghanistan who wants to come given the fact we have ruined a country over 20 years. It’s not like Afghanis in Afghanistan got the choice to have the U.S. enter their country or not. Now, as a part of the recovery process … you have to let the people in whose lives you’ve had a direct hand in ruining to make up for that and part of that is incorporating them into our society,” Bathish said.
As of the date of publication, no concrete solutions or plans have been presented by the city or its community patterns. Those looking to aid in the resettlement of Afghan refugees can visit the state’s Labor and Economic Development website where they can volunteer their time or donate money toward the cause.