'Very excited' Iraqi refugees arrive in Detroit; thousands expected

The White House in February said it would accept up to 7,000 Iraqis fleeing the fighting in their homeland to move to the US by September.

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August 2, 2007 08:37
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Ismaail Ahmed Hamed's relatives remain on the other side of the globe after fleeing their native Iraq, but the 25-year-old was welcomed like family to his new home of Michigan. Hamed, who left Iraq for Turkey in 2005, is among the first of an influx of Iraqi refugees expected to resettle in the Detroit area after escaping the continued turmoil in their home country. "We hope the future there will be different," Hamed said Wednesday after getting off a plane at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Waiting for him was a furnished apartment with food on the shelves in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. Belmin Pinjic, director of refugee services for the Southfield-based Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, said Hamed also will get help finding a job and have a broad support network. Hamed's father remains in Turkey, while his mother is in Syria. A Muslim, Hamed studied biology at a Baghdad university, with hopes of becoming a doctor. Though tired from his trip and frustrated with the continued violence in his homeland, the refugee with no family in the US remained steadfast in his goals. "I hope to finish my studies," Hamed said. Along with Hamed, a Chaldean family of five also made the trip Wednesday from Turkey via New York. They are among the first Iraqi refugees this year to move to the Detroit area, home to about 300,000 people who trace their roots to the Middle East. Eight more refugees, all members of another Chaldean family, arrived later in the day with plans to live in the northern Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights. "We finally will have accomplished a bit of this mission," Joseph Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation of America, said of Wednesday's arrivals. "Our goal is to make sure our people are well taken care of." Chaldeans are Iraqi Catholics, but Kassab said his group welcomes all, regardless of faith. "Refugees are refugees," he said. "It doesn't matter." The White House in February said it would accept up to 7,000 Iraqis fleeing the fighting in their homeland to move to the United States by September. It would be the largest Iraqi influx since the 2003 invasion, with aid workers saying many likely will come to the Detroit area, either initially or after first resettling elsewhere. Since then, however, federal authorities said security checks have slowed the process. Asho Matti Hanna, 56, clutched a bouquet of red roses as she embraced relatives following her family's arrival. She and her husband, along with their three sons, ages 17-21, had been living in Turkey since leaving Iraq about five years ago. "I am very happy," she said through a translator. Her husband, Ibrahim Yousif Dawood, 57, was jailed in Iraq during the rule of Saddam Hussein because two of his sons left for Greece, and the family had faced harassment because they had relatives in the US, according to Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. Two years ago, US relatives, including Neda Hanna, visited the family in Turkey, where they saw the family living in one room under a leaky roof. The relatives wanted to help, so Neda Hanna said her daughter e-mailed first lady Laura Bush. A response that included a phone number to call helped get the process going. The family will live with relatives including Neda Hanna in Sterling Heights. A large family dinner gathering was planned for later in the day at their new home. "I'm very excited," said Neda Hanna, who is Asho Hanna's sister-in-law. "The place where they were was very bad."

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