World Refugee Day Los Angeles 2016
“The stories that [refugees] tell and the successes [they] bring will go a long way towards changing the minds of a great number of people in this country,” John Heilman, Mayor Pro Tempore of West Hollywood, said to a round of applause at the Los Angeles World Refugee Day event on June 23
By Sarah Novicoff; International Rescue Committee Journalism Intern
World Refugee Day was first organized by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in 2001 to “commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees,” according to the UNHCR website. The Los Angeles event, organized by the Refugee Forum of Los Angeles (RFLA), welcomed hundreds to Plummer Park in West Hollywood for a resource fair featuring more than 20 organizations.
“There’s never been a time when refugees needed our support more, and this celebration is a wonderful demonstration of this community’s support and refugees’ resilience,” said Martin Zogg, Executive Director of the International Rescue Committee in Los Angeles. “All of us at the IRC in LA are proud of our 40 years of helping refugees and of our long-time support of the RFLA.”
The IRC in LA booth included staff members from Resettlement, Early Employment, Citizenship and Immigration departments. Refugees, asylees and immigrants asked staff and volunteers about the IRC’s mission, its office services and citizenship and financial literacy workshops. The IRC in LA is a founding member of the RFLA and helped to organize the World Refugee Day event.
“It was wonderful to see hundreds of refugees and asylees, after enduring years of struggle to resettle in the US, take a few hours to celebrate themselves and talk directly to the dozens of local community agencies and city services in Los Angeles,” Rameena Rahman, the IRC in LA Volunteer Coordinator, said.
Throughout the event, representatives from many of the assembled organizations struck a welcoming and warm tone in speeches designed to introduce their agency’s mission and services to the assembled audience.
Chief of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Immigrant Affairs spoke to event attendees about their work advocating for better immigration policy at a state and federal level and assisting immigrants in accessing city services. Chief Linda Lopez encouraged people to “open our hearts and communities... The diversity represented in the refugee community is our greatest asset.”
The Los Angeles Public Library and the Los Angeles Unified School District also spoke about the importance of refugees in our community. LAPL encouraged children in attendance to join their summer reading series while LAUSD discussed its new early school enrollment procedures.
The Los Angeles Police Department, also an RFLA member, stood out among the assembled nonprofits and city services at the event.
“We want to help all victims, regardless of status,” said Chand Sayed, Sergeant with the LAPD. Sayed encouraged members of the refugee community, who may come from countries where police commit crimes more often than solve them, to feel comfortable soliciting help from law enforcement.
More than 15 Los Angeles resettlement agencies and social service providers also participated in the event, striving to assist the assembled refugees.
“Today we have the power to make a refugee family welcome,” Hind Baki, Welcome Team Coordinator for Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Services, said. IRIS resettles refugees in the Los Angeles area and provides immigration legal services and an English and Civics program.
“We are a city built on refugees and immigrants,” Kim Nye, Board Member for the Program for Torture Victims, said. PTV provides mental health care and rehabilitative care to survivors of torture and comprehensive case management services.
After speeches from city service providers and nonprofit organizations, Raices de Mexico performed a duet followed by Invertigo Dance Theatre. Invertigo incorporated audience feedback, creating a dance based around child suggestions of what makes them happy including roller coasters and dogs.
“I think it was important to have a big, visible celebration of refugees to show the people of Los Angeles, and refugees themselves, that we wholeheartedly welcome them into our community,” Rahman said.