refugees | WMUK


Refugee kids are heading to Kalamazoo

Dec 1, 2021
Rahmat Gul / AP Photo

A few months ago they were fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Now hundreds of refugees are preparing to make new homes in West Michigan.

Courtesy of Jim Lommasson

An exhibit coming to Kalamazoo features photos of the items refugees brought to the United States. Photographer Jim Lommasson says it’s also a story about what people left behind.

Instructor Hend Hegab teaching Arabic at the Oshtemo branch of the Kalamazoo Public Library
Rebecca Thiele/WMUK

As of 2016, Michigan had the second highest number of Syrian refugees in the country. Many of those refugees are not yet fluent in English. This makes everyday things — like going to the doctor — that much more difficult. So people working with refugee families are trying to close the language gap. 

Participants at one of the Burma Center's English as a second language (ESL) classes
courtesy of The Burma Center

Note: This story originally aired in April. In the United States, the risk of suicide is higher for refugees. It’s even higher if you’re a refugee from Burma. The trauma of fleeing a country in conflict can often turn into mental illness, even years later. But the Western concept of mental health doesn’t exist in Burmese culture. Words like “depression” often don’t translate. As a result, some Burmese refugees aren’t getting the care they need. 

Carlos Osorio/AP / AP

Shadia Kanaan says the question “where are you from?” now has a different tone than it did when she first came to the United States from the West Bank.