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Local leaders hear personal refugee stories

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LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – Coming up with solutions to meet the needs of a growing refugee issue led Ingham County officials to visit a refugee re-settlement agency to show their support.

It was in collaboration with Welcoming Michigan, which works with communities and local governments to create safe spaces for refugees and immigrants.

Tamara Silva left Cuba in 1994 to come to the U.S. but it wasn’t an easy journey. “When I left Cuba, I left in a boat, homemade boat, and it was 20 feet long and we were 24 people in that boat,” explained Silva.

She spent months filling out paperwork and eventually arrived in Lansing in 1996.

The same goes for Alphonsine Busabusa who left Burundi in Africa in the midst of civil war.

“It’s not easy to come to U.S.,” said Busabusa. “It takes for so long, but you start have this, you start having hope, saying one day, I will go. The door is going to open for me.”

A door that organizations in Lansing are trying to keep open.

St. Vincent Catholic Charities talked to Ingham County officials today about their refugee services including resettlement, employment and education.

Judi Harris of St. Vincent’s explains “they need the schools, they need the jobs, they need friends, they need family, they need community.”

Harris says there is a lot of work to be done, especially as they prepare for the resettlement of Syrians in Lansing.

“There are terrible places in the world, people are fleeing, and so we need to do our part, and do as much as possible to to give them a place to live in safety,” said Harris.

Ingham County commissioner Carol Koenig says refugees are also giving back. “They actually are a really great part of our community, they start businesses, their kids go to school with your kids, and they’re wonderful people.”

St. Vincent helped Silva and Busabusa when they came to Lansing, now they’re returning the favor by helping other refugees.

“When I see my kind coming from the airport, and then you go back after 90 days, how much they can be able to do by themselves,” adds Busabusa.

It’s a program St. Vincent’s has had since the 1970’s.

This year St. Vincent is being asked to accept up to 700 refugees, 100 more than in past years.

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