Syrian refugees could save Detroit: experts

Some 2.4 million Syrians have fled to neighboring Turkey and Jordan

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U.S. authorities could save the shrinking city of Detroit from collapse by infusing it with tens of thousands of resourceful Syrian war refugees, two experts suggested Friday.

The idea, floated in a New York Times op-ed, may appear politically impractical, but its authors argue it would be a step towards ending two seemingly intractable crises.


“Suppose these two social and humanitarian disasters were conjoined to produce something positive,” wrote Stanford professor David Laitin and Marc Jahr, former head of the New York City Housing Development Corporation.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, they noted, has already called for an infusion of 50,000 immigrants as part of a program to revitalize Detroit.

And Syrians, they argued, would be ideal for a city that already has a vibrant and entrepreneurial Arab-American community.

Some 2.4 million Syrians have fled to neighboring Turkey and Jordan to escape their country’s devastating civil war.

Detroit, which emerged from bankruptcy last year, is struggling to turn around a long slide that transformed the once proud Motor City into an “urban vacuum.”

Its population has fallen from 1.9 million in the mid-20th century to 700,000, leaving a vast landscape of abandoned buildings and vacant lots.

“What confidence can we have that traumatized war refugees can be transformed into budding American entrepreneurs? We cannot know for sure,” Laitin and Jahr wrote.

But they said communities resettled from other warzones have helped revive other American communities.

Syrian refugees have set up 3,500 shops, stores and other businesses at Jordan’s Zaatari Refugee Camp “despite psychological scars and limited resources,” they wrote.

Laitin and Jahr acknowledged major political and bureaucratic hurdles must be overcome, including agreement by President Barack Obama and Congress to lift a ceiling on Syrian immigrant numbers.

Processing refugees and conducting rapid security checks also would be a challenge, and funding would be needed for social services for the newcomers.

“Are the benefits to Detroit, to a devastated Syrian population, and to American ideals worth overcoming the expenses and administrative complexity of this proposal? We think so,” they write.

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