Chaldean groups mobilize aid for refugees fleeing Iraq

Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press
As the number of refugees increase inside Iraq and in metro Detroit, local Chaldean groups are mobilizing to help assist them with food, clothes and support.
On Friday, needy Chaldean refugees arrived at the Chaldean American Ladies of Charity in Troy to get free vegetables, clothes and a program that may allow them to get cell phones. In the back of the center were hundreds of bags stuffed with clothes, toiletries and medical supplies to be sent soon to Iraq, where growing numbers of Iraqis, especially minority groups like Chaldeans, have been forced to flee their homes as the Islamic State (ISIS) advances.

“Since we are privileged, it’s important to give back,” said Merna Sadik of Bloomfield Hills, who volunteered Friday to distribute food at the Chaldean center in Troy. She was one of several students with the Chaldean American Students Association at Oakland University who helped about 70 Iraqi-American families, most of them refugees.

“It’s scary” what’s happening now to Iraqi minorities, said Halim Sheena of West Bloomfield, president of the Chaldean students’ group.

Refugees have been arriving for years in Michigan since the Iraq war in 2003 started an exodus of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christian groups such as Chaldeans, who are Iraqi Catholics. As the extremist group ISIS gains control this year in areas in Iraq, the number of Christians fleeing has increased even more, with Christian-majority villages around Mosul almost now emptied of Christians and other minorities such as Yazidis.

Many of them have fled to cities like Erbil, where they are struggling to survive.

With winter approaching, “it’s starting to get cold,” in Iraq, said Rita Foumia, president of the Chaldean American Ladies Center. Many “fled without the clothes on their back.”

And so she and others organized a coat drive that got about 5,000 coats for the refugees in Iraq that are now at the Troy center. Also on Friday, Feel Safe Wireless, a company in Bloomfield Hills, helped sign up low-income refugees to potentially get free cell phones, which are needed to help them get jobs and function.

Bishop Francis Kalabat of Southfield, who heads the Chaldean Church in Michigan and the eastern half of the U.S., has been urging local Chaldeans to mobilize their efforts to assist Iraqi refugees. Existing programs in Michigan such as the Adopt a Refugee Family are also helping those in need, and a new group, Medical Emergency Relief for Christian Iraqis was recently created.

Most of the refugees in metro Detroit have fled before ISIS seized control of Mosul, but some now have arrived in recent months. Waseem Ilotte, 35, of Warren, arrived in the U.S. last month after ISIS drove him and his family out of the village of Bartella in Iraq. He was at the center on Friday to get food and a car seat for his two young boys.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo

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