HEADLINES: Refugees

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The Iraq War may be officially over, but for thousands of Iraqis who fled to America during the conflict, there’s no going home. Many left successful careers to settle in Detroit, where finding their future is a challenge.

The U.N. estimates several million Iraqis are now refugees — either inside Iraq or outside the country. Almost 60,000 of them have come to the Detroit metro area since 2006, drawn by the large Arab community that’s been there for years.

“There are mosques, schools, churches and neighbors,” says Rifat Ita, a counselor with Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, one of four resettlement groups in Michigan. “We have the infrastructure to help new arrivals.”

But what Michigan does not have is enough jobs to meet demand for anyone, let alone this group. That falls harshly on refugees, particularly the professional class, which is often middle-aged and older. [NPR]

Dickson Hoo is 24 years old, a grade nine mathematics teacher and deputy principal at a mission school. He’s a bright young man who knows all his students by their first names. But instead of air-conditioned classrooms and computer screens, he teaches algebra on a donated blackboard using a ragged piece of chalk and his students jostle for a place on rough wooden benches, their feet dangling above a well-swept earth floor.

Dickson has lived and taught in Mae La refugee camp for the past five years. Mae La is the biggest of nine refugee camps peppered along the Thai border with Myanmar and is overflowing with about 50,000 traumatised, desperate people.

Dickson’s father Saw Tar Hoo is a pastor, a tall, solemn man who fled Rangoon with his wife Daisy and their children in 2006 to escape the brutal Burmese military regime. Dickson and his family belong to the Karen ethnic group, which has suffered at the hands of the Burmese government since the country’s independence from British rule in 1948.  [Phenom Penh Post]

When Somali refugee Madina Ali escaped harsh drought and famine in Somalia, she hoped to find a better life in Ethiopia’s Dolo Ado camp. But her son’s health has deteriorated since arriving over two months ago, and she is worried it will only get worse.

“Since we came here, he keeps getting sick every three days,” she said, cradling her frail nine-year old son, Ibrahim Abdirahman. “When he falls sick he starts vomiting, and then he gets diarrhea. He doesn’t eat properly, and in this place there is no milk, there is no sugar,” she added.

Aid workers say malnutrition rates among children under five at the Dolo Ado camp are alarming.

“Malnutrition rates are still very high — this is still an emergency situation,” said Voitek Asztabski, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the camp. “It’s not over, and it could continue for several months before we reach the control level,” Asztabski added.

Over 50 percent of children in Dolo Ado’s Hilaweyn camp and nearly half of all children in Kobe camp are suffering from malnutrition, according to a preliminary health survey from the United Nations refugee agency. [AFP]

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