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Pittsburghers celebrate, welcome refugees from around the world

Pittsburghers celebrate, welcome refugees from around the world

Story by Humayoon Babur

Pittsburghers from different walks of life recently came together in Market Square to demonstrate love, raise public awareness and encourage refugees to overcome the life struggles they often face in the United States.

The event included various faith groups, rights activists and government officials and took place on June 21 to celebrate World Refugee Day.

“Because of White House and federal policies that have been enacted over the Trump administration, we have seen a significant decrease in the number of refugees that were received in,” said Betty Cruz, 37, who works as a social worker for All for All refugees resettlement agency.

“This is disastrous for us as a social perspective in terms of being there for our neighbors,” Cruz said. 

In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order over refugees from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States.

As a result, one of Pittsburgh’s largest resettlement agencies had to close its doors last year because of concerns over funding and the decreased number of refugees.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald told participants in the rally that immigrants from across the globe came to Pittsburgh brought the city great art, great culture and new foods.

“A lot of folks who are coming here for the first time bring their talents, their innovation, and their energy to continue to make this place the best place that it can be,” he said.  

Around the main event, vendors celebrated by showing off their crafts and culture. Mina Aldoori wore a beaming face and spoke to customers over henna arts. Almost 10 years ago Aldoori left Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, and now she is studying at Carlow University while working as therapeutic support staff at Wesley Family Services.

“I came to the U.S. when I was in high school and the wonderful thing that you had to deal with was learning English,” she said. “When I came, I didn’t know any English word; right now, I’m a grad student.”

Nepalese dancers perform at World Refugee Day in Pittsburgh’s Market Square. Video by Humayoon Babur.

Hillary Ferencak, program coordinator at Pace Building Capacity Community, said she celebrates World Refugee Day to feel reinvigorated about helping refugees acclimate to the city.

“It’s one of my favorites,” she said. “I get to see all walks of life come together to create a home for refugees because nobody wants to be displaced from their homes. … I’m just very pleased and always happy to see that we’ve created home and community for them.”

Hilary Ferencak, program coordinator at Pace Building Capacity Community, she talks about World Refugee Day. Video by Humayoon Babur.

The number of refugees worldwide continues to grow. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has shown that every minute, 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror.

In Pittsburgh, Jewish Family and Community Services has resettled about 100 refugees since the federal fiscal year began in October. 

Celeste Gotcha was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is married and has four children. And he came to the United States in June 2018.

“I have one year and two weeks here in Pittsburgh,”he said.

Gotcha explained that he lives without any problems, and feels much more secure here than in Congo.

“Everything is going well,” he said. “I have a job. We are all fine.”

Mina Aldoori, an immigrant from Iraq, draws henna art on participants at the World Refugee Day celebration in Pittsburgh’s Market Square. Photo by Humayoon Babu.

Humayoon Babur is an Afghan journalist and the 2019 Daniel Pearl Fellow for the Alfred Friendly Press Partners program. He is studying multimedia journalism at Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation. 

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