Metro Detroit facilities help Chaldean immigrants

Macomb Co. office focuses on Chaldeans
Charles E. Ramirez / / The Detroit News
Sterling Heights — Sameer Jajju came to Metro Detroit 13 months ago. He doesn’t speak English, which can make life here difficult for Chaldean refugees such as him.

But he’s getting help from the nonprofit Chaldean Community Foundation, which recently opened an office in Sterling Heights for people like Jajju who settle in the area from Iraq.


The office, at 15 Mile and Ryan, is the foundation’s first in Macomb County. Its hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

It’s also the second such office to open in Sterling Heights in the last year. In October, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services opened an office on 14 Mile near Ryan to help refugees from Middle Eastern countries. ACCESS is based in Dearborn.

Jajju came to Sterling Heights from Iraq by way of Turkey, he told The Detroit News through a Chaldean Community Foundation interpreter.

He’s a motorcycle repair technician, but not knowing the language makes it hard to fill out U.S. Immigration forms or find work, he said.

Jajju, 46, said he’s grateful the foundation has set up an office near where he lives in Sterling Heights.

“They’re helping us with the language barrier,” he said. “We really like this office coming here.”

Chaldeans are the indigenous people of Iraq. Most are Catholic and speak a form of Aramaic, but many also speak Arabic. Many have been forced to flee Iraq because of ethnic and religious persecution.

The largest Chaldean population outside Iraq is in Metro Detroit, where an estimated 121,000 Iraqi Catholics live, according to the foundation. The group projects 10,000 Chaldean refugees will settle in the area over the next two years.

And the need for specialized social services to help them will continue to grow, said Martin Manna, executive director of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber of Commerce started the Chaldean Community Foundation five years ago to offer educational programs, donations and advocacy.

“People come here with nothing because they’ve fled their ancestral home,” Manna said. “Our hope is that they will learn what they need to through our programs and become self-sufficient.”

The foundation chose Sterling Heights because of its central location and because many refugees are settling in Macomb County, said Sharon Hannawa, its program manager.

Hannawa runs the new office, which has three case managers who provide refugees with translation services, computer and Internet access, referrals to community programs as well as assistance with job hunting and health care. It also has a partnership with Macomb Community College to provide English classes.

The foundation provides the services free of charge and receives its funding from private donations.

“(It) is helping us a lot,” Jajju said.

“I don’t know what we would do without it.”

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