Since September 2016, we have led student activism on refugee issues, calling for compassionate policymaking and providing direct assistance to recently-resettled families in our own community.
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 their own back yards. The Michigan Refugee Assistance Program works closely with local refugee resettlement agencies to connect students with volunteering opportunities, allowing students to work with and on behalf of refugees. MRAP's primary goal is to connect passionate students with these opportunities, not only to provide assistance in areas where it is needed most, but to also facilitate cross-cultural understanding between students and refugees. In addition to an in-kind volunteering effort, MRAP's Fundraising and Education & Advocacy committees work to generate public awareness of refugee issues and to create a welcoming community in southeastern Michigan for these new Americans.
There are currently 65.3 million displaced people in the world, 21.3 million of whom are refugees. Every minute, 24 people are forced to flee their homes to find safety for themselves and their children. While these figures are astounding, they can often be difficult to put a human face to.
The Michigan Refugee Assistance Program began in the summer of 2016 as the shared idea of a few impatient young people ready to lend a hand in addressing the largest humanitarian crisis our generation has ever known. Amidst increasingly negative rhetoric surrounding refugees, our founder, Nicole Khamis, along with others, reached out to local refugee resettlement agencies in the Ann Arbor Area. These agencies expressed a need for assistance due to the mass influx of refugees. Student voices were largely absent at this time on advocacy for refugee issues and in the volunteering population working to welcome new Americans into their new communities. Over the summer of 2016, Nicole worked with local resettlement agencies to assess their needs and devise a program that would work not only to connect student volunteers with refugees, but also provide funds, raise awareness, and advocate on behalf of recently resettled refugees as well as refugees abroad.
In its first year, MRAP partnered with Jewish Family Services to fundraise and provide in-kind donations of clothing and other supplies for families who had recently arrived in the United States. MRAP also partnered with Samaritas and the Detroit Mayor's Office's Department of Immigrant Affairs to pilot a welcoming liaison program to acquaint recently-arrived families to city resources. Pairing students with locally resettled refugees in the Detroit area, we afford them a direct opportunity to assist resettled individuals with many tasks that are vital to beginning their new lives. 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.
MRAP now has over 200 members and is growing everyday, looking to expand its welcoming liaison services to the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti community while continuing its advocacy and fundraising work. We are recognized by the U.S. State Department and are affiliated with the No Lost Generation program.
Banner photography on this page provided by Ahad Bootwala.