Minnesotans celebrate World Refugee Day

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“I believe that it must be our goal as a nation to help and support refugees worldwide, whether they are fleeing violence, natural disaster or political persecution”, the U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar said.

Minnesota: Haven for refugees
According to the Advocates for Human Rights fact sheet published in 2006:

• Refugees are persons who are forced to flee persecution in their country of origin. The Minnesota Department of Human Services estimates that more than 70,500 refugees live in Minnesota.
• In a given year, 25-50% of Minnesota’s immigrants are refugees, compared to 8% nationally.
• In a given year, 25-50% of Minnesota’s immigrants are refugees, compared to 8% nationally.
• 13,500 refugees from about 30 different countries were resettled in Minnesota from 1999-2003 accounting for just over 2% of all refugees admitted nationally. Though the number each year may fluctuate, the percentage resettling in Minnesota is expected to be stable.
• In the last two decades, refugees have tended to come from the former Soviet Union, Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
• Federal, state, and community agencies give these estimates of Minnesota’s largest refugee populations:

Hmong 60,000
Former Soviet Republics 12,500
Vietnamese 25,000
Ethiopian 7,500
Somali 25,000
Cambodian 7,500
Laotian 13,000

According to reports from local immigrant communities, Minnesota is home to the largest Somali population in the United States. The Twin Cities area is host to the largest Hmong community in the world outside of Asia. An estimated 400 Hmong-owned businesses have contributed to the revitalization of urban areas in the Twin Cities metropolitan area: St. Paul, North Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park, and Brooklyn Center in particular. Unique, yet smaller immigrant communities in Minnesota include the largest group of Oromo – an ethnic group from Ethiopia – outside of that country, the second largest group of Tibetans in the U.S., and a concentration of West African refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Speaking at the World Refugee, a UN day designated for refugees and observed every year on 20th June across the globe, Sen. Klobuchar added, “many in this state have an acute awareness of the magnitude of the hardships that refugees face”.

The day brings together millions to reflect on the undeserving plights and flights of refugees worldwide. Minnesota has hosted over 88,000 refugees since 1979. It is one of the fastest growing States in the country with large immigrant population, second to California.

It has the highest Somali refugee’s in North America after Canada and is the second home for Liberians in the United States.

Beaming with high spirits and wary of warming summer weather, not event the distant rumble of down pour or high gas prices could keep away thousands of Minnesotans of all walks and colors who turned-up for the event at the Minnehaha Creek Park to a jubilee of events.

Thanking Minnesotans and promising to advance the interests of refugees worldwide, Senator Klobuchars said, “I am deeply appreciative of the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee, UNHCR and Minnesota non-profit organizations that are committed to helping refugees to the necessary levels of services and support without which this celebrations would not be taking place”, she said.

Adding her voice to the occasion, Elizabeth Namarra, a co-founder of Sub-Saharan African Youth and Family Services in Minnesota, SAYFSAM speaking on refugee situations said “my flight from religious persecution from Ethiopia is memorable but also scary and one of a scarce environs.

Drawing loud applauds, she said, “with a minimal early schooling in my native country, Ethiopia, I am now glad to have successfully graduated from Augsburg College dual degree in civil engineering degree”.

Adding humor to the occasion, she narrated her conflict with the weather, “I was unfamiliar with snowy weathers and against my sister advice to wear pants out of respect for my cultural upbringing, I sooner realized the compelling necessity of wearing one”, she said with a light chuckle.

“And this was the first time in my life I had to put on a one”, she added with a tailing rich voice that tipped a wild roar from the audience.

Dr. Osman Harare, of East African Health Project, on refugee plights said, “on many occasions I was pushed to a breaking point as I treated pot-bellied starving children, mothers and women choked with miasma of health distresses and depressions with high energy meals in Mandera refugee camps in the 90s.

Away from the kowtows and tributes, the moments of extravaganza came home with the echoes of the African drums and percussions rallying the funky Afro-hits of the seventies. SUNplug group replaying lyric of Osibisa, the King of Africa attracted many. Also of crowd pulling was the Pan-African Youth Dancers playing traditional “Somali-Danto dance”.

Dressed in a colorful dark red-striped traditional Somali shoals, “guntina shall”, tied at left shoulder blade and with a matching loose round waist tied clothe “kikoy for men; the Pan African dancers received standing ululation for their agile performance.

Pan African Community Organization, PACO, the main support for the dancers is a non-profit organization providing services to African immigrants mainly focused on HIV prevention among the African-born.

One Minnesota refugee

Rwanda refugee remembers
by Julia N. Opoti, TC Daily Planet
“I remember being numb. All my emotions were gone—I was in a survival mode.”

The twenty-four-year-old Rwandan genocide survivor recalled the past, with a blank look on her face, watching the steam rise from her cup of hot chocolate.

“We knew it was coming,” said Alice Tuza, now a refugee living in the Twin Cities. “We just did not know when.”

Tuza was only nine at the time. Click to read more

Ibrahim Ibe, from Guinea featuring West African spoken words poem trudged the journeyed the audience of the two world’s refuges cherish, living in America and a heart for Africa with the baggage of pains and gains, challenges and conflicts in his artistic poetic performance, attracting audience.

You can help

International Institute of Minnesota: Refugee Mentoring Program – Befriend and orient newly arrived refugees to the United States. Responsibilities include weekly contact, helping the refugee family understand opportunities available in the Twin Cities, and lots of listening. Training and support is available. Commitment is one meeting a month for six months. Contact kmartin@iimn.org

Lutheran Social ServicesThere are a variety of opportunities in volunteering with Refugee Resettlement. For more information, contact Sharon Bangsund at Sharon.Bangsund@lssmn.org or 612/879-5260

Among others who performed included a Somali Youth Poets “Ka-Joog” meaning leave it and as they would like sometimes to be called; the Last Poets also carried the evening. Others speakers included, Eh Taw Dwe from Karen community and Williametta Saydee of Liberian and Mao Thao from the Hmong community. The closing curtains were performed by International Reggae All-Stars bands.

Currently, there are staggering 14 million refugees including two million Iraqis and two other Somali. There are also million of Internally Displaced Persons, IDP currently living as refugees in their own countries like as in Kenya and Somali.

The event was organized by coalition of non-profits and largely coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Health, the Refugee health section and World Relief among others and officiated by Mukhtar Gaaddasaar of KFAI Somali services as the master of ceremony.