The city of Lansing is a destination for many refugees looking to start their lives in the United States. The Refugee Development Center in Lansing estimates that anywhere between 400 and 700 refugees are resettled in Lansing every year. That’s on top of the over 10,000 refugees who already call Mid-Michigan their home.
As a prequel to refugee awareness week which takes place from June 17 to the 24th, four different agencies: Refugee Development Center, Samaritas, Global Institute of Lansing and St. Vincent Catholic Charities have teamed up with 24 local storytellers and photographers.
They’ve created an exhibit highlighting the lives of 12 refugee families living in Mid-Michigan.
Local photographer Jeremy Herliczek is one of the producers of the exhibit, called Refuge Lansing.
“I’m just a local photographer and someone who cares about immigration issues, refugee issues. Someone who recognizes that Lansing has a long history of welcoming refugees to our community. And when the federal government in January cut the numbers of refugees being allowed into the country I sort of headed up an effort to recruit members of Lansing’s local creative class. Lots of photographers and writers. We banded together to tell stories.
The exhibit premieres at the State Capitol on June 13, but that’s not its only stop.
“Following the opening of the exhibit at the capitol it will travel to any interested organizations that would like to have it." Says Herliczek. "Basically churches, faith groups, businesses, community centers. We’re open to anyone who would like to have it really.”
Jeremy also shared how working in this project connected him with Razmin, who came to the U.S. from Afghanistan as an unaccompanied minor. Herliczek explains how this connection deeply impacted his life:
“He came over to the United States, he was resettled by himself. He left Afghanistan at 16 or 17, made his way all the way to Indonesia. Was living in a refugee camp there and ended up being resettled here by himself alone. And actually, what was great is I have turned sort of into a mentor for him so our relationship has gone on where I’m helping him get into college, helping him work on his portfolio. It’s neat, it has changed my life.”
Photojournalist Rod Sanford also worked on Refuge Lansing. He says his career capturing the lives of others has helped form his welcoming mindset towards refugees.
“In what I’ve done for a long time, I meet all kinds of different people in all kinds of different situations. And, in general, people just want to live their lives peacefully. They just want to love their families. They just want to have a home." Sanford says. "And I’ve been privileged in that in my job; to meet people and to see how they live, how they work, how they play. And a lot of people don’t get that.”
And as for the people living in the U.S. who either dislike, or just don’t care about the situation refugees are facing, Jeremy Herliczek has a message for them:
“Welcoming the stranger is not a liberal issue, it’s not a conservative issue. It’s a human rights issue. Refugees around the world, who are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries, who are trapped in a second country that doesn’t want them, [they] look to the United States as a beacon of hope. Let’s not put that beacon out.”
Refuge Lansing opens on June 13th at the Michigan State Capitol from 11 to 1 p.m. and continues on to the Refugee Development Center the week after. To learn more about the exhibit go to RefugeLansing.us