In Washington, D.C., hundreds gathered in Lafayette Park, just outside the White House, to rally in support of refugees and call for their continued protection. Those present included refugees, faith leaders, legal and security experts, and community activists.
“World Refugee Day is about who we are as a country and what we stand for. We must choose to welcome refugees seeking safety for themselves and their children, and not turn our backs on people who need our help," said HIAS Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Melanie Nezer in remarks at the rally.
The speakers were diverse, but they shared a common message: respect for refugees and their contributions to this country.
“Some of the bravest, most resilient and unselfish people I’ve ever known are refugees, especially those I came to know from my service in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Scott Cooper, the founder of Veterans for American Ideals. “Today, they are leaders in their communities and contribute to the fabric of our country.”
“Refugees make America strong, and diverse, and beautiful. They make us who we are," added Sirine Shebaya, a senior staff attorney at Muslim Advocates.
The Washington, D.C. rally was one of many World Refugee Day gatherings around the country—and around the world.
In New York City, dozens of advocates marched in opposition to the refugee ban, and gathered for an interfaith iftar dinner at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza as part of a World Refugee Day action organized by African Communities Together, HIAS and other City of Refuge Coalition partners.
In San Jose, Costa Rica, HIAS Country Representative Kathya Araya led an information session for refugees and asylum seekers on World Refugee Day, to explain their rights as well as the meaning of the annual commemoration. "It is important that all humanity be aware that there are people who suffer persecution and need to be Welcomed. Feel welcome in Costa Rica and in HIAS,” Araya said.
In Kyiv, HIAS Ukraine joined the UN refugee agency and the Canadian Embassy to host a photo exhibition in Sophia Square, right in the heart of the capital. The exhibition, named “Show Humanity!”, features both the life of refugees in Ukraine as well as the history of Canadian hospitality and refugee protection.
Some World Refugee Day celebrations across the U.S. this year were particularly innovative. CRRA, HIAS’ local partner in North Carolina, spent the month of June using Facebook to highlight former refugees who now make Charlotte their home.
HIAS New York, together with several former HIAS clients and HIAS staff, marked the day early by attending a World Refugee Day Festival and the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music on Saturday, June 10. Artists performed classical and folk music from their native lands in groups and in solo configurations. Proceeds went to the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music New Overtures Fellowship, which aims to provide professional development for refugees, immigrants, and asylees seeking careers in music education in New York City.
“Hearing musicians who I have represented in their applications for asylum perform was deeply moving, and I could see how others were moved as they witnessed the indestructible beauty of cultures foreign to ours being preserved in live performance,” said Simon Wettenhall, HIAS’ lead advocate for asylum services. “This is the living exemplification of our work.”