Chaldean-Americans helping refugees from Iraqi homeland

Sunday 24/04/2016
Religious, political and community leaders celebrate the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new Chaldean Community Foundation Center in Sterling Heights, Michigan, on November 13, 2015.

Detroit - Far from their ancestral Iraqi home, thousands of Chaldeans are using their experience of emigration to help Iraqis and Syrians suffering the effects of war to make new lives in the United States.
Nearly 500,000 Chaldeans and Assyrians have immigrated to the United States since World War I. An estimated 150,000 reside in south-eastern Michigan.
In 2003, Chaldean business own­ers and community activists created the Chaldean-American Chamber of Commerce (CACC) to strengthen Chaldean businesses, nurture lo­cal employment creation, stimulate economic development and pro­mote the community’s rich history and ancient culture. In addition, the Chaldean chamber seeks to serve and represent other Aramaic-speak­ing communities, including Assyr­ians and Syriacs.
The chamber has launched sever­al affiliates, including the Chaldean Chamber Political Action Commit­tee (PAC) in 2004. The PAC seeks to raise the profile and represent the community in local and state gov­ernment.
Iraq’s war spurred a massive in­flux of Iraqi Christians to the Unit­ed States. In 2006, the chamber launched the Chaldean Community Foundation, a charitable organisa­tion focused on meeting the grow­ing community’s needs. The foun­dation provides assistance to at-risk, disadvantaged, new Iraqi and Syrian immigrants.
Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chambers of Commerce, and the Chaldean Com­munity Foundation, suggests vio­lence in Iraq showed the community in America had a role to play:
“As Iraq continues to crumble, we’re constantly looking to the fu­ture. We want to have long-term programs because the reality is, America is our new home and so our focus is on how to help the immi­grants and refugees transition to the American way of life.
“We want to help them accultur­ate instead of assimilate because we don’t want them to lose their cul­ture, heritage and language.”
The Chaldean-Americans’ local and regional political advocacy has expanded into the federal and inter­national levels. The Nineveh Council of America (NCA) raises awareness on the plight of ethno-religious mi­norities in Iraq and Syria and lobbies the US Congress and administration to preserve and protect them.
In 2011, the Chaldean Community Foundation opened an office in Ster­ling Heights, Michigan. The founda­tion operates Refugee Acculturation Sustainability and Training (RAST), which addresses the major issues impacting the refugee and immi­grant population, such as English-language learning, immigration ser­vices, career services and access to health care.
Project Bismutha — the “act of healing” — in affiliation with the Chaldean American Association for Health Professionals (CAAHP) pro­vides free medical services for unin­sured Iraqi Christians.
The Chaldean Community Foun­dation established Refugee Men­tal Health Services, a community health initiative that provides men­tal health services to refugees and low-income community members.
In 2012, the foundation launched the Chaldean Loan Fund, which is designed to provide low-interest loans to the Chaldean refugee com­munity for the purpose of pur­chasing used vehicles. It is funded entirely through community dona­tions.
That year, the foundation began Breaking Barriers, a programme that provides services and advocacy to those with special needs, such as those with hearing or visual impair­ments.
Due to the increase in need and support from the community, in No­vember 2015 the foundation opened a large state-of-the-art community centre in Sterling Heights. The of­fice has experienced an increase in user services and clientele. Ap­proximately 15% of clients served are non-Chaldeans. The foundation is on track to provide immigrant and refugee social services to more than 20,000 people in 2016.
Manna says: “We also want to ed­ucate the general public about who refugees really are. There are many people who have a phobia of refu­gees, and throughout history, it’s refugees who have helped build this great nation. Refugees are job crea­tors, not job takers.”
“We are also advocating for a UN processing centre in Erbil, so peo­ple applying for refugee status or asylum to come to the United States don’t have to travel outside of Iraq.
“Inside Iraq, we are trying to en­sure that the displaced have safe passages to their ancestral lands in Nineveh, and are protected.”
The Chaldean Chamber boasts as one of the largest ethnic chambers in the country with nearly 1,000 active members representing some 3,500 businesses. Overall, Chaldeans own more than 15,000 businesses in Michigan, including a large number in the hospitality, wireless and food and beverage industries.
Chamber members enjoy quar­terly networking meetings, an an­nual business conference, industry outlook events and the annual din­ner highlighting the Businessperson of the Year and Humanitarian of the Year.
“The chamber’s success is a clear indication of the impact Chaldean businesses have on the economy in south-east Michigan,” says Manna. “This organisation has given our business community a voice in the region.”