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A place to start over

With support from Lutheran agency, Syrians find refuge in Michigan

Text by Erin Strybis Photos by Dwight Cendrowski N

ayef Buteh wants Americans to know that the situation in Syria is dire: “It’s getting worse

every day. I can’t see hope for a better situation [anytime] soon.” For nearly five years, a civil war

has been raging in Buteh’s home country. More than 200,000 people have died in the conflict between the Syrian political regime and rebel groups, including the Islamic State (ISIS). War crimes have been com- mitted on both sides, according to the U.N. “Te war doesn’t know age,

religion or gender,” Buteh said. “It’s doing harm for everybody. Every- body’s life is in danger.” In November 2015, Buteh, 45,

arrived in Dearborn, Mich., with his wife, Feryal Jabur, 41, and son, Arab, 8. Tey are among more than 4 million people who have fled Syria since the start of the war. Lutheran Social Services of

Michigan (LSSM) is accompanying Buteh’s family as they settle in the U.S. At the airport in Detroit, they were welcomed by their caseworker, Nenos Akther. He brought them to their temporary home, which was stocked with food and other necessities. Initially Akther was in contact

on a daily basis, assisting with Social Security cards, Department of Human Services benefits and

Arab (left)—with his father, Buteh—enrolled in public school in December 2015. “We were worried and thought it will be harder to adjust our life, but so far we are doing good and learning new stuff every day,” Buteh said.


doctor appointments. Buteh said he has helped his family a lot, and was available even when he called aſter working hours or on the weekends. “Te first couple of months are

very intense,” said Mihaela Mitro- fan, LSSM’s resettlement program manager. Families with no U.S. ties, like the Buteh family, are guided by LSSM staff through safety, cultural and employment orientations to adjust to life in the U.S. Te Buteh family, along with all others in LSSM’s resettlment program, were granted refugee status by the U.S. government. “Many of the Syrians coming

over have been unusually trauma- tized by the civil war there and ISIS demands and threats, and they are coming over unusually vulnerable,” said Sam Beals, LSSM chief execu- tive officer. “Our heart goes out to them more than ever as refugees trying to start a new life.” By early December, Buteh’s fam-

ily had secured long-term housing and Arab was enrolled in school. Teir next steps are English lessons and LSSM’s employment program,

Nayef Buteh, his wife, Feryal Jabur, and their son, Arab, moved to Dearborn, Mich., in November 2015 with the support of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan (LSSM).

Mitrofan said. LSSM aims to equip refugees to

be self-sufficient within 180 days, and staff members report that some 75 percent achieve this. “But we’re available to help them with any needs that come up within the future,” Beals said. “We also connect them with their particular ethnic group so they can move forward with close and trusting relationships to assimilate to their community as quickly as possible.” For Buteh, that has made all the

difference. “I like it here because [there are] a lot of Middle Eastern people,” he said. “Tat makes me feel closer to home.”

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