The Michigan Refugee Assistance Program (MRAP) was founded on the idea that University of Michigan students who are passionate about helping refugees could do so right in the town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Michigan Refugee Assistance Program works closely with a nearby refugee resettlement agency, Jewish Family Services (JFS), to connect students with volunteering opportunities that allow student volunteers to work with and on behalf of refugees. The three fields that students can volunteer with are translation services, cultural assimilation services, and resettlement assistance. One of MRAP's primary goals is to connect passionate students with locally resettled refugees through JFS, to not only provide assistance in areas where it is needed most, but to also facilitate cross-cultural understanding between students and refugees. In addition to a volunteering committee, MRAP consists of an education and advocacy, fundraising, and outreach committee. Together, these committees host events that raise awareness on the biggest refugee crisis ever witnessed.
The Michigan Refugee Assistance Program started out as an idea amongst impatient people ready to lend a hand in the largest humanitarian crisis of our generation. After the Paris attacks and increasingly negative rhetoric surrounding refugees, Nicole Khamis, along with others, reached out to see if any local refugee resettlement agencies were in the Ann Arbor Area. As Jewish Family Services (JFS), a local refugee resettlement agency, happened to be just down the street on South State Street, Nicole approached JFS to see how she could get students involved in assisting JFS in any way possible. As the refugee resettlement agency expressed a need for assistance due to the mass influx of refugees, it was expressed that students could be an incredible resource for JFS. So, over the summer of 2016, Nicole worked with JFS while abroad to assess their needs, and come up with a student group that would work not only to volunteer with refugees, but also provide funds, raise awareness, and advocate on behalf of recently resettled refugees as well as refugees abroad. After a successful trial launch of the program, MRAP now has over 200 members and is growing everyday. MRAP is recognized by the U.S. State Department and has a partnership with the Detroit Mayor’s Office.
There are currently 65.3 million displaced people; 21.3 million refugees; and 10 million stateless people. While these figures are astounding, they can be difficult to put a human face to. That is why MRAP started. Paring students with locally resettled refugee in the Ann Arbor area, we afford students a direct opportunity to assist resettled individuals with many tasks that are vital to beginning their new lives: opportunities such as setting up a social security number, enrolling children in school, and grocery shopping for our new neighbors are just some of the many opportunities student have to help resettled individuals navigate a new and strange environment. While MRAP believes in the power of individual stories and the power of human interaction to dispel stereotypes, we also use our platforms for educating the general public and campus on the current refugee crisis. A student organization that started on the basis of incorporating student voices that were largely absent, MRAP believes that students can be actors in raising awareness about the global refugee crises by using their platform to educate fellow students, thereby preparing them with the tools needed to become world actors in this time of mass displacement. With MRAP, students have a unique opportunity, whether it be through fundraising, planning educational events, or volunteering, to be a part of refugees' next step. MRAP aims to foster not only a welcoming community, but a more welcoming world.