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Meet a typical Palestinian refugee in Michigan

This protester for Palestinians might be a more typical refugee than you think
This protester for Palestinians might be a more typical refugee than you think
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Michigan hosts one of the largest populations of Palestinians in the world. One Palestinian refugee family, the Barakats, brought their12-year-old son, Yusif, to America. That was in 1947.

Refugee opportunities in Michigan

Yusif eventually settled in Hamburg Township, Michigan (Livingston County near Brighton). In 1970, Yusif Barakat was elected as an Oakland County Commissioner. Mr. Barakat ran for U.S. Congress and had a career as a psychotherapist. Now 78 years old, Mr Barakat is still a Palestinian refugee. He is included when politicians and the media speak about “Palestinian refugees.”

If Mr. Barakat adopted a child tomorrow, that child would also be a Palestinian refugee. Descendants of Mr. Barakat qualify as refugees from Palestine whether or not they ever step foot out of Michigan.

In fact, if Yusif Barakat had a son over here (second generation) who had a son over here (third generation) who had a son over here (fourth generation), that final son is a Palestinian refugee.

Say what?

You read right. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is the official body caring for Palestinian refugees. UNRWA defines Palestinian refugees as, “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” UNRWA also states, “The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children, are also eligible for registration.”

What the...

Of the 5 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA, more than 66 percent do not live in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, or Gaza. The typical “refugee” lives in a place like Dearborn, Michigan.

Say What?!

Even the minority who still live in the Middle East live in permanent homes provided by UNRWA. In addition to houses, UNRWA builds public spaces, schools, and [health care] clinics. These “camps” are equipped with handicap access. They also have roads and lighted walking paths maintained by the UN.

The typical Palestinian refugee has the benefit of sewage systems, waste removal services, storm-water drainage and rodent-control services

There is one way Mr. Barakat is not a typical Palestinian refugee. He can remember the war of 1948. The vast majority of Palestinian refugees were not alive during the war from which they are seeking refuge.

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