World Refugee Day celebration shows Alaska’s welcoming spirit

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Around the world, people will celebrate World Refugee Day on June 23. This is a celebration and a show of support and solidarity with our brothers and sisters who have been displaced from their homes by war and persecution.

Can you imagine that life? Being forced from your home and country for your beliefs or your color or ethnicity or your geographical location or even just because you’re a person in the way of a battle? I find it difficult to imagine. It seems so completely wrong, and yet it is happening all over the world right now. People are being displaced from their countries and their homes at this very moment. The current estimate of refugees in the world is 65.5 million people — one out of every 113 members of our human family have been forcibly displaced within their country or across a border.

World Refugee Day brings recognition to this issue. We will also celebrate refugees who have come to Anchorage. There are so many productive and strong people who arrived first in Anchorage as refugees and who now own businesses, send their children to schools, pay taxes, celebrate with us in churches and contribute to the social fabric of our community.

I want to emphasize the rigorous process that all refugees who enter our country must go through before they can be admitted. The refugee security screening process involves an interview with the United Nations to determine eligibility for refugee status (fear for their lives due to war or persecution). If granted, only about 1 percent of the millions of refugees in the world are given the opportunity to resettle to a third country. If they are referred to the U.S. for resettlement, an intensive screening process is initiated, including interviews with the Department of Homeland Security, fingerprinting and security checks through FBI and Department of Defense databases, a medical screening, and cultural orientation. This process takes a minimum of 18 months, but typically it lasts many years.

Many of the children who resettle in Alaska were born and raised in refugee camps, all while their family went through the resettlement process, waiting for the opportunity to continue their lives in a place of safety. Once here, refugees immediately began searching for employment and receiving job training. They are generally very successful and within a year the vast majority is off of public assistance, and become tax-paying members of our community.

Our World Refugee Day event will take place at the Mountain View Farmer’s Market. Please join us there to celebrate. While there you can see the new urban farm — Grow North Farm — which some refugees will be using through a partnership with the Anchorage Community Land Trust to grow produce in the neighborhood to sell at farmer’s markets throughout the city. You can support this program and refugees in our community by buying their produce. Proceeds go directly to them.

These new members of our community have overcome extreme challenges to resettle in our country. We are neighbors and friends, and we share a connection. Most people who live in Anchorage arrived here from somewhere — only our Dena’ina community can probably claim true long-term roots.

Settling in a new place is difficult and can feel uncomfortable. One of my favorite things about Anchorage is our generosity of spirit in welcoming travelers and newcomers. I think it is because living here we have created new families and communities from scratch and we know the feeling of arriving.

That spirit is something to celebrate, especially on World Refugee Day, when we reach out to our neighbors around the world to see their struggle and welcome them to their new communities.

The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more on CSS, call 222-7300 or visit cssalaska.org.


'World Refugee Day celebration shows Alaska’s welcoming spirit'
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