The United Nations established World Refugee Day to honor people forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.
In 2013, there were an estimated 10.4 million refugees around the world. In 2014, with situations in Syria, Somalia, Iraq and other places, those numbers are likely to grow drastically.
(Update: According to NPR, "At least 51.2 million people are now living under forced displacement, a U.N. agency says, announcing its tally of people who are seeking refuge or asylum, or who are internally displaced. It's the first time the number has topped 50 million since World War II.")
On Sunday, June 22, 2014, the city of Dayton will celebrate World Refugee Day by honoring its own refugee populations. The city has provided temporary refuge, or become a permanent home, to a number of refugee groups over the years. Sunday they’ll recognize them with music, food, dancing, and other activities at McIntosh Park.
Melissa Bertolo, Program Coordinator with Welcome Dayton says the goal of the event is to bring together refugee populations and other residents.
“And, so any way that we’re able to bring people together to share common experiences, especially share food, enjoy company with each other, it builds those relationships and builds a stronger community," she says.
Dayton’s overall immigrant population right now is about 4% but growing, and organizers of Sunday’s event say they’ll also hold a clinic to help refugees with their immigration status.
Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), provides civil services for low-income individuals. Kathleen Kersh is an attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow, a position sponsored by the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation. She works with immigrant integration issues at ABLE and runs the Pro Se (without an attorney) Clinic.
"We help refugees file petitions to bring their family members over, and also to adjust their status to permanent residence, which means getting a green card," she explains.
Kersh says the U.S. handles a large percentage of the world's refugee populations and the road to from their home countries to host communities, like Dayton, is a long one. It takes coordination by the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, the Catholic Council of Bishops, and Catholic Social Services. The latter is Dayton's local refugee resettlement agency.
After a year as a designated refugee, those placed temporarily in communities like Dayton, can apply for a green card.
Sponsors of Dayton's event, Sunday, include Welcome Dayton, Catholic Social Services, American Friends Service Committee, Metro Dayton Libraries, Dayton Public Schools, Archdiocese of Cincinnati and other community organizations.
It takes place at McIntosh Park from 11am-3pm.