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Study Tracks Resiliency of Iraqi Refugees in Michigan

July 26, 2010

LANSING, Mich. - Metro Detroit is home to around 15,000 Iraqi refugees, and researchers at Wayne State University are about to begin tracking several hundred of them to see how they're adjusting to new homes and a new culture. The university is partnering with the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), for the project.

The ACCESS Community Health and Research Director, Dr. Adnan Hammad, says many Iraqi refugees have post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, after experiences in their home country.

He has found that the conventional model for dealing with refugees doesn't work for these Iraqis. He explains how that model goes wrong.

"What does that model mean? I'm assuming it means they speak English, they cannot drive cars, they have skills to work in the industry in the United States of America, they have communications skills - and they have zero PTSD."

Lutheran Social Services of Michigan is the largest refugee resettlement organization in the state, and also a research partner. Jessica Cotton, who is a schools specialist for their Refugee Services Program, says children of refugees are often put in classes that can hinder resettlement progress.

"They're thrown into an ESL class, which means, once again, they're not able to fully acclimate to the American culture, because they're separated and only speaking to children who are also experiencing the same problem. So when they get ready to go through the next phase, and actually be merged into the classroom with American children, they're still having a whole set of issues."

The multi-year study is, in part, intended to help streamline programs to help refugees function, find work and acclimate to U.S. culture. The project is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Amy Miller/Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MI