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Michigan Plays Prominent Role in Helping Refugee Iraqi Families

March 6, 2009

Southfield, MI - As the war in Iraq winds down and American troops prepare to return home within 19 months, Michigan continues to have a prominent role in helping refugee families assimilate in the U.S. Many come to Michigan, and specifically the Detroit area, because it has the highest Middle Eastern population outside the Middle East. Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, through its School Impact Program, helps refugee Iraqi children become acclimated to the American school system.

Senior school specialist Jessica Cotton says, because of the war in Iraq, many refugee children don't have experience in a regular classroom.

"They know that they have to go to a school building, but they may not have actually been in the school setting; sitting in desks, raising hands for permission, being in an actual building. Some of the children may not have ever seen school."

Many of the Iraqi children come to the U.S. already knowing how to speak English, says Cotton.

"Mostly that's the older children who have been to school because they were teaching English as a second language over there in the classroom. Some of the children are not having a problem adjusting. Most of the issues are social more than educational."

The School Impact Program last year serviced 250 children, and Cotton expects the number to increase this year. Middle Eastern families have strong bonds, which is something many Americans could learn from, she adds.

Tony Bruscato, Public News Service - MI