Communities across the U.S. to mark World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day events across the United States this weekend (June 18-20) will be rich in sounds, colors, tastes and testimonies by people from around the world who have escaped persecution and armed conflict and found welcome and new life in U.S. communities

Ghimires family at home in Lancaster, PA
The Ghimire family, Bhutanese refugees resettled from Nepal to Lancaster, Pa.
Photo: CWS

Events this weekend (June 18-20) celebrate refugees' new lives in the U.S.

World Refugee Day events across the United States this weekend will be rich in sounds, colors, tastes and testimonies by people from around the world who have escaped persecution and armed conflict and found welcome and new life in U.S. communities.

These multicultural festivals and educational programs, many of them sponsored or cosponsored by local refugee resettlement affiliates of Church World Service, will be among observances worldwide on or around June 20, the date officially designated as World Refugee Day by the United Nations.

Church World Service is one of 10 U.S. national voluntary agencies that resettle refugees to the United States in partnership with the U.S. government.  Of the world's nearly 14 million refugees (more than eight million of them "warehoused" in camps or segregated settlements for 10 years or more), about 75,000 are admitted to the United States annually after a rigorous screening process.

Each year, CWS offers resources for congregational and community observances.  This year's CWS resources ask, "What does it mean to be 'home'?"  They also offer "how tos" for advocacy on adequate funding for the U.S. refugee resettlement program and for refugee protection legislation currently before Congress.

Here are some of the World Refugee Day celebrations planned for this weekend:

Friday, June 18

•  Denver, Colo., from 3:30 to 7 p.m., at the African Community Center, 850 Holly Street.
As guests arrive, they will be invited to write on poster boards around the room their answer to the question "What does it mean to be a refugee?".  This free event will include refugee testimonials, a Ugandan drumming group and other music, and food.  Event cosponsors include CWS affiliate Ecumenical Refugee and Immigration Services (ERS).  For more information, contact Genevieve Cruz at ERS, 303-860-0128.

•  Greensboro, N.C., from 9 a.m. to noon, Greensboro Children's Museum.
Spend a fun morning with Greensboro's refugee community sharing food, play activities for children, and watching great performances.  For more information, contact the Guilford Refugee Advisory Council at or or Kelly Dent at 336-210-5092 or

•  Indianapolis, Ind., at 7 p.m., at the Indianapolis Central Library (Clowes Auditorium).
This first annual fundraiser for CWS affiliate Exodus Refugee/Immigration Inc. will be emceed by WFYI CEO Lloyd Wright.  All proceeds will go to Exodus's services to refugees.  The event will feature a screening of the award-winning documentary "Burma VJ," shot by videographer citizens of Burma while witnessing the peaceful pro-democracy protests of Burmese Buddhist monks and the violent reaction of the military junta.  In addition, a panel will discuss the film and the situation in Burma that led up to the protests.  Tickets for the event are $20 and can be purchased online at, at local Global Gift stores, or by calling Exodus at 317-921-0836.  Note:  Tickets will NOT be available at the door.  For more information, contact Exodus.

Saturday, June 19

•  Columbus, Ohio, from 2 to 6 p.m., at the Ohio State University (OSU) Student Union (Great Hall Meeting Room).
Food is being donated by local ethnic restaurants.  Keynote speaker will be Axmed Hosh, a refugee from Somalia now studying communications at OSU.  A discussion will follow, with panelists to include Angela Plummer, executive director of CWS affiliate Community Refugee and Immigration Services.  For more information, contact Charis Steffel at 614-987-1642 or

•  Grand Rapids, Mich., from 1 to 5 p.m., Rosa Parks Circle.
CWS affiliate PARA Refugee Services is among cosponsors of this event, which will include performances by a Haitian Dance Group, Laura Armenta, a Burundian Women's Choir, Gwaii, Mars Hill Church Choir, and Shingi Mavima.  There also will be testimonials from refugees, craft stalls, drumming, dance, music, international food stalls and more.  Entrance is free; crafts and food for sale.  For more information, contact Sarah G. at 616-456-8661 ext. 5202.

•  Greensboro, N.C., from 5 to 8 p.m., in Festival Park.
Greensboro's first "Mosaic Festival" will seek to raise awareness around refugees and what they bring to the community.  The event will feature a mix of refugee performers, a popular local American band, a drum circle, information and crafts booths, and a food stand.  For more information, contact the Guilford Refugee Advisory Council (presenting the festival in partnership with 3dogproductions) at or Kelly Dent at 336-210-5092 or

•  Houston, Texas, from 3 to 6 p.m., Westland Family YMCA, 10402 Fondren.
This free event will feature live performances, children's activities, educational documentaries, ethnic dance and music, refreshments, recreational activities, art displays, games and more.  Sponsored by a coalition of refugee resettlement agencies and community organizations, including CWS affiliate Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston's Refugee Services, "to highlight what the refugees in our city are doing to establish new homes, while also honoring and celebrating their roots."  For more information, contact Geleta Mekonen at IMGH, 713-533-4953.

•  Lancaster, Pa., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Eastern Market, 308 E. King Street.
This free event will feature multicultural cuisine, international arts and crafts, locally grown produce and flowers, live international music and dance, and children's activities throughout the day.  Last year's event drew about 700 people.  The event is sponsored by CWS/Lancaster, Lutheran Refugee Services in Central Pennsylvania, and Eastern Market.  For more information, contact Laura Kime at CWS, 717-358-9278, or

•  Omaha, Neb., from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Benson High School, 5120 Maple Street.
Opening ceremonies will include a parade of flags, opening remarks, refugee performances and presentations, and (at 10:20 a.m.) a naturalization ceremony for nine refugees to become U.S. citizens.  The day also will feature a mock refugee camp, a children's carnival, a health fair, educational presentations by refugees from several countries (Iraq, Bhutan, Somalia, Burma and Sudan), an open microphone time for musicians, an awards ceremony, and a fashion show and dance.  The event's multiple cosponsors include CWS affiliate Lutheran Refugee Services.  For more information, contact Susan Mayberger at 402-557-2431 or

Additional Dates

•  Syracuse, N.Y., Sunday, June 20, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., sponsored by CWS affiliate InterFaith Works of Central New York and other agency partners.
The event begins with an 11:30 a.m. "meet and march" from CYO (527 N. Salina Street) to City Hall for a 1:30 p.m. flag raising.  From 3 to 5 p.m. at 800 N. Salina Street, a multicultural fashion show with music and dance will be held.  Related events include a New Citizens Information Fair (10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Friday, June 18, at the Refugee Assistance Program) and Refugee Children's Art Show Opening (noon to 5 p.m., Saturday, June 19, at White Branch Library)  For more information, contact or phone InterFaith Works at 315-474-1261.

•  Chicago, Ill., from 6:30 to 9 p.m., June 22, at Loyola University's Mundelein Auditorium, 1020 W. Sheridan Road.
The event, cosponsored by CWS's affiliate RefugeeOne (formerly Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries), will feature musical performances by Chicago's own Funkadesi and refugees recently resettled to Chicago from Bhutan, Iraq and Burma.  $20 suggested donation at the door.  For more information, go to

•  Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, June 26, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Tyson Park (large shelter behind the playground).
The event will feature food, music, games and a tour of Knoxville's Community Nourishment Garden, the produce of which will be provided to refugee families.  Event sponsor is CWS affiliate Bridge Refugee Services, which since 1982 has helped thousands of refugees from around the world start lives anew in East Tennessee.  For more information, contact Woods Nash at Bridge Refugee Services, 865-540-1311 or

In addition, CWS affiliate Kentucky Refugee Ministries, in Louisville, is planning its annual picnic and games for all its refugee clients currently attending English classes, for the afternoon of June 18.  Contact Lee Welsh at 502-479-9180, ext. 14, or for more information.

And, CWS affiliate Refugee Services of Texas in Dallas is planning a pizza party, games and music for its newest refugee clients, for the afternoon of June 19.  Contact Suzanne Senesac-Sherif, RST Outreach Coordinator, at 214-821-4883 or for more information.

Church World Service is a global humanitarian agency supporting sustainable grassroots development, disaster relief, and refugee assistance and working to promote fair national and international policies.  Since its founding in 1946, CWS–along with its local affiliate agencies and its participating denominations and their congregations–has helped nearly 480,000 refugees begin new lives in the United States, nearly 6,500 of them in FY 2009.

The CWS resources for World Refugee Day 2010 note that finding a sense of home in a new country is a long-term process.  It involves not just finding housing, learning English and getting a job, but also becoming a participating member of a new community.  This process of integrating includes adaption of both refugees and host communities.

The CWS resources include the story of the Ghimire family, forced to leave their native Bhutan in 1992 because of government persecution of the country's ethnic Nepali minority.  They spent 17 years as refugees in Nepal.  They had a roof over their head, but they were not "home."  Nepal kept them confined to a camp, dependent on food rations and unable to work legally.

In 2009, the U.S. refugee program resettled the Ghimires to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where Church World Service found and furnished an apartment for them.  CWS also started them on their way to recovering a sense of home by helping them learn their way around Lancaster, make friends, and find work, educational opportunities and ways to contribute to their new community.

U.S. congregations and communities can help refugees "come home" by volunteering with new arrivals and by urging their members of Congress to support such legislation as the Refugee Protection Act of 2010 (S. 3113).



All active news articles