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Despite Snyder’s “pause,” Syrian refugees continue to arrive in Michigan



There’s been a lot of confusion in the last few days.

So let’s just clarify something here: Syrian refugees are still coming to Michigan. More are expected.  

And Governor Snyder is fine with that.

So that “pause” you’ve been hearing so much about? Governor Snyder’s office says that only refers to his prior advocacy for bringing additional Syrians to Michigan – beyond those the federal government typically designates.

In the meantime, it’s pretty much business as usual for refugee agencies in the state.

“To be honest, we haven’t seen much of a change, partly because it takes so long for refugees to be vetted, that we had folks in the pipeline already that this announcement did not effect,” says Sean de Four, the VP of Children and Family Services at Lutheran Social Services of Michigan.

His organization has helped resettle some 70 Syrian refugees this year.

“In fact, I believe it was three or four days after Governor Snyder’s announcement, we welcomed a Syrian family at the airport."

Meanwhile, Snyder’s administration has had numerous conversations with refugee agencies in the state, to assure them they can continue their normal work with Syrians.

“They did indicate to us that we could continue to welcome refugees, including Syrian and Iraqi refugees, into west Michigan,” says Kristine Van Noord of Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids, which has helped resettle some 34 Syrians since April.

Post-Paris, Michigan’s “overwhelmingly positive” response to refugees

Meanwhile, lots of calls and letters are coming into refugee agencies in Michigan since the Paris attacks, and since the national debate about Syrian refugees erupted.

The vast majority of that outpouring has been supportive, Van Noord says.

“The biggest difference in the last few weeks has been talking to media, and fielding a lot of calls for ‘how can we help?’” she says. “So we’ve gotten a lot of requests from our community here of: how can they be a part of welcoming refugees, and in particular Syrian refugees?”

Meanwhile, Sean de Four of Lutheran Social Services says they’re seeing the same thing.

“It’s been mixed, but the overwhelming majority of folks that we’ve heard from, have been calling to ask how they can step forward and assist,” he says.

“We’re seeing that from the faith-based community, and from ordinary citizens that … just want to be a part of helping the resettlement process and helping these new Americans,” he says. “Of course, we have those that have been interrupted by a few negative comments, negative bits of feedback.”

For Kristine Van Noord, the refugee worker in Grand Rapids, there has been one other uncomfortable change.

“What’s really been hard for me in the last couple weeks, is having to start having conversations about, ‘you might get negative feedback. You might get people saying negative things towards you.’ I so desperately want refugees to feel safe here, and so far there haven’t been any instances, but we do have to have those conversations.”   

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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