Portland celebrated World Refugee Day with food, music, dance and cultural performances at Delta Park on Saturday, July 22.
PDX World Refugee Day hosted refugees, speakers, poets and other talents to showcase diversity in music, fashion, art and more. The refugees who attended the event are from all over the world, including Somalia and Ghana.
“The topic of refugees in general does not get much attention and respect, so we get the chance to publicize it on a broader scale and invite people here, not only refugees and immigrants, but the general community,” said Felix Songolo, employee of Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization.
The event kicked off with a World Cup Soccer match and featured fashion shows, Bollywood dancing and international performances. The event hosted immigrant vendors as well as business owners and included a job fair for refugees seeking work in Portland.
“People who become friends and who connect with refugees feel like their lives are better because of it,” said Jess Abra, event organizer. “I think it’s something that’s really important and what this event is trying to showcase.”
The event was initiated by Portland Parks and Recreation’s Parks for New Portlanders, a program providing recreational opportunities for refugees and immigrants. Som Subedi, a refugee and employee of Portland’s Parks and Recreation, was one of the organizers of the event. Subedi escaped the government of Bhutan and lived in a refugee camp until 2006. He then moved to Portland and has been a full-time employee at Portland Parks and Recreation for two years.
“I was forcibly moved from Bhutan and lived in a refugee camp for almost 20 years,” Subedi said. “Portland is welcoming, generous, compassionate, and when I came to this country as a refugee in Portland with 10 dollars in my pants pockets and a plastic bag, Portlanders went to the airport and brought me here.”
Abra and Subedi said the purpose for this event is to help build community between Portland and immigrant refugees.
“It’s a difficult time for refugee immigrants, and I think we need to come and show our support that we are with them and this place belongs to them,” Subedi said.
With more than 65 million people forcibly displaced, according to the United Nations, World Refugee Day was launched by the U.N. Refugee Agency and is held once a year all over the world to raise awareness among the global public.
“There’s a statistic that refugees and immigrants have never been inside a traditional American home; I think it’s really easy in a city and in any bigger community for there to be this disconnect where you don’t ever really interact with a refugee,” Abra said.
One of the main goals for the event is to bridge that disconnect and bring the community together.
“As soon as you meet a refugee, as soon as you meet a person who seems like they are the other and you connect with them, you start to realize you have the same values,” Abra said. “It’s then you build community and come together.”
Abra explained that supporting immigrant refugees is important because they benefit Portland, the state and the nation as much as it benefits them.
“A valuable message for Oregonians and people in Portland is that refugees bring really positive things to our city,” Abra said. “It’s not just we’re doing something for them by welcoming refugees, but it’s also they bring economic contributions and cultural diversity.”