Welcoming refugees to the United States is much more than life-saving humanitarian and foreign policy action—it also brings rich cultures and vast potential to our communities. In the run up to June 20th, World Refugee Day events across the country seek to raise awareness, highlight the many benefits refugees bring to their new cities, and meaningfully connect community members to one another.
Last week the Tampa Bay Area Refugee Task Force hosted a cultural festival to honor World Refugee Day and the region’s resilient refugees. As a member of the Taskforce, HIAS refugee resettlement affiliate, Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services (GCJFCS), played a large role in planning the event.
The festival had a great turnout with “an incredibly diverse representation of refugees, community providers, and supporters,” reflected Sylvia Acevedo, Program Director for Refugee Resettlement, the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture, and VOICES Interpretation & Translation at GCJFCS. “The large attendance ensures that the event is helping to educate the larger community about refugees and their journeys and shows refugees that the community is there to support and welcome them.”
With “The Journey” as this year’s theme, the festival included a mock refugee camp exhibit staffed by refugees who had lived in United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camps prior to coming to the U.S. The exhibit helped visitors understand refugees’ long passages from their home countries all the way to their new homes in Tampa Bay.
This year, many World Refugee Day events are being attended by special guests from UNHCR and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), which are important actors in resettling refugees to the United States. The Tampa Bay event was no exception. The presence of guests and speakers from UNHCR and PRM reflects and underscores the importance of coordinating welcome between the national and local levels and of supporting each other in the process. According to Sylvia, “it certainly meant a lot to the agencies that are working to provide services to refugees to have that level of visibility and acknowledgement from PRM and UNHCR.”
Ensuring a welcoming environment is a critical component to the resettlement process. It helps refugees integrate and thrive in their new homes. The Linking Communities Project (TLC), coordinated by HIAS with other national resettlement agencies, is an important new initiative that aims to increase welcome and support for resettlement in local communities. Through the project, national agencies are working together to strategically connect, support, and empower local advocacy work and awareness-raising about refugees and the benefits they bring to our communities.
“Standing on stage, one of the representatives asked us all to look to the person standing on either side of us and say ‘thank you, you make me happy’. To my left was a refugee from Iraq and to my right was a refugee from Eritrea. What could be better than that?” Sylvia adds. “It was a great way to acknowledge the joy we get from working with each other.”
For more information on the TLC Project please visit www.hias.org/tlcproject.