Celebrating World Refugee Day 2019

By Sharon Samber, HIAS.org

World Refugee Day, June 20, is a day to honor the resilience of refugees and call attention to ways to help them.

This year there are sober statistics to contend with: UNHCR released its annual Global Trends report, showing a record 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced at the close of 2018 – double the number 20 years ago. Refugees make up nearly 26 million of this new figure, while 3.5 million are asylum seekers.

At the same time we recognize the overwhelming need to address the global refugee crisis, HIAS looks to honor the fortitude of refugees and give them admiration as well as assistance. This year, HIAS produced a special video for World Refugee Day, and all over the world HIAS and its supporters took part in celebrations, whether it was though activism or food or cultural activities.

At a Capitol Hill press conference, co-sponsored by HIAS, Church World Service, and many interfaith partners, lawmakers stood with former refugees and faith leaders to support bills restoring U.S. refugee resettlement. The GRACE Act would set a minimum refugee admissions goal at 95,000; and the NO BAN Act, which would end refugee, Muslim, and asylum bans based on religious or nationality-based discrimination.

Speaking at the event, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) said, “Today, we demand change. Moral leadership. This is not the America we want to be.”

Quoting the Talmud and the Qur’an, Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb of Congregation Adat Shalom in Bethesda, Md., said, “‘Whoever saves one life, it’s as if they have saved an entire world.’ Multiply that by 70 million and you come to the scale of the refugee crisis. To love the stranger IS to love God. To go forth and advocate for the lives of every refugee we can help, that is how we can demonstrate our love for God.”

Imam Yusuf Saleem, Masjid Muhammad, of the The Nation’s Mosque said: “We ask God to relieve our human brothers and human sisters who are suffering from this crisis and make the world a light of kindness, compassion, and good deeds this world refugee day.”

Later in the day in Washington, D.C., HIAS staff joined other refugee assistance organizations in a 5K walk/run entitled the Sunset Run for Refugees, and HIAS Action DC, a network of people in their 20s and 30s who stand in solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers, went to a UNHCR-organized concert at the Kennedy Center.

HIAS World Refugee Day Celebrations Around the World

At HIAS Ecuador, site offices organized fairs, festivals, movie forums, and other activities with UNHCR, local organizations, and local governments. In Esmeraldas, there were integration events at local schools, and under the slogan “More Friends, More Integration” HIAS, UNHCR, and partner agencies held activities that promote inclusion in schools. In Quito, HIAS organized a food festival of Venezuelan and Middle Eastern cuisine made by refugee chefs. In El Coca, HIAS, UNHCR and other partner agencies organized a parade on Sunday to promote social inclusion with refugees and migrants. In San Lorenzo there was a parade and dance performances, and in Santo Domingo there was an entrepreneurship fair.

HIAS Costa Rica, in coordination with the University of Costa Rica’s Legal Clinique, organized a talk about the Legal Protection System for Asylum Seekers in Costa Rica. Also, HIAS staff will join UNHCR Costa Rica on June 29th to host a Refugees Entrepreneurs Fair and artistic performances.  

In Venezuela the HIAS activities were extensive and varied; to name a few events:  a walk for "#ConLosRefugiados" in Machiques; a party which included folk dances, Venezuelan and Colombian music, entertainment for children, and recreational and sports activities and dance therapy for adults in Caracas; workshops on refugee displacement, photo exhibits, and a concert in San Cristobal; community network meetings and recreational activities and kits for children in Maracaibo.

Some cities decided to showcase refugee cooking talents and foods. In Greece, chefs and refugee cooks across the country marked World Refugee Day by serving their favorite dishes in selected restaurants as part of the Cooking #WithRefugees festival. Joining on the island of Lesvos, was the NAN restaurant, where refugees —including Ovileya Myrah, who HIAS recently helped to win legal status —and locals work together and share their recipes with the local community.

In Chad there was a Women and Girls’ Parade in Gaga/Farchana; a community center exposition in the Djabal camp; in N’djamena, together with UNHCR and other partners HIAS helped clean a hospital which treats refugees; and there was a community outreach event in Kerfi.

HIAS Aruba is organizing a march on June 30th for the Aruban and Venezuelan communities together with UNHCR, VenAruba, and IOM. The slogan in Papiamento is “Pasonan Uni” or  “United Steps” and the event is intended to bring together the different cultures and people on the island. The logo of the event represents the Aruban flag shaped as the island with small footsteps going in and out of the island. These footsteps will be in different colors in order to represent the different cultures and people who are coming to and leaving Aruba.

In Philadelphia, HIAS PA participated in celebrations across the city, introducing Philadelphia's refugees to their neighbors for a day of socializing, celebration, food, and fun. Activities included potluck-style dinners that incorporated food from local immigrants’ home countries; dancing to music provided by neighborhood musicians and bands; and games and fun activities for children. The Philadelphia Regional Refugee Providers’ Collaborative (PRRPC), a coalition of refugee resettlement and post resettlement service providers, helped organize the block parties and Mayor Jim Kenney spoke at the South Philadelphia event.

Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley held a Refugee Crisis Event prior to World Refugee Day and Executive Director Mindy Berkowitz recently spoke about World Refugee Awareness Month at a Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors meeting, where the board also proclaimed June Immigrant Heritage Month.

HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield attended a naturalization ceremony for refugees in Pittsburgh and celebrated with Jewish Family and Community Services and Mayor Bill Peduto at the downtown event which included African, Nepali, and Greek dance groups, and Venezuelan musicians.  Local refugee and immigrant communities sold crafts and food from Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and more.

In New York, the producers of Fiddler on the Roof invited staff and clients of HIAS and other refugee assistance organizations a special performance of the Yiddish-language revival on Broadway. HIAS was also a co sponsor at a World Refugee Day Festival in Brooklyn that included live music from around the world, storytelling, dramatic performances, and family activities and crafts.

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