LANSING, Mich. — Lansing has had refugee resettlement programs for more than 40 years. On Thursday, as the U.S. government works to resettle tens of thousands of refugees from Afghanistan, federal officials came to see how local programs have been operating.
Michigan has committed to welcoming 1,600 Afghan refugees to the state. So far, 275 refugees have been placed in Michigan,105 of those in Lansing.
“We do believe it’s important for everyone to have an opportunity,” said Lansing Mayor Andy Schor. “This is part of our inclusion, this is part of our equity and we are making sure folks who come over here have the ability to succeed.”
State officials said they’ve been working closely with their federal partners to make sure they have the resources needed to help these families.
As of right now, the federal government has allotted a total of $6.3 billion to helping refugees who have fled from Afghanistan. With the money, refugee families can have access to things like housing, clothing, employment opportunities and schooling.
“We try to assess their academic level. Do they know any English? Do they know one language, two languages? Can they write? Can they read? So once we get a sense of where they are, we make sure their placement is appropriate , so they feel challenge and not overwhelmed,” said Lansing Public Schools Superintendent Ben Shuldiner.
The resettlement program is a nationwide effort.
“We have settled around 17,000 of our allies from Afghanistan,” said Jack Markell, the White House coordinator for Operation Allies Welcome. “We currently have just over 50,000 who are on eight U.S. military bases across the county. We’ll have another couple thousand or so arriving next week.”
Markell oversees the resettlement program, making sure refugee families are placed properly. While he said there’s a lot of good things that come from the program, there have been some challenges.
“We had to put the entire resettlement process on hold about six or seven weeks ago because there were a couple cases of measles at the U.S. military bases,” he said. “But the military did a great job launching a vaccination campaign.”
But he said there’s nothing more rewarding than placing a family in a safe, clean environment .
“I’ve already had a remarkable day,” Markell said. “Having met with a family who told me thank you. They told me to thank the U.S., thank Michigan, and thank Lansing, and they didn’t even know Michigan existed, but they are already so fortunate to be here.”