Local organizations celebrate World Refugee Day
BRIDGEPORT — The mood was celebratory at the World Refugee Day picnic, co-hosted by Save the Children and the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants (CIRI), Wednesday afternoon at Seaside Park.
But the recent separations of parents and children at the Mexican border, sanctioned by the Trump administration, occupied the minds of many visitors.
“I feel we would be remiss not to make note what’s going on at the border of the United States and Mexico,” said Claudia Connor, president and CEO of Bridgeport-based CIRI. “We just want to add our voice to that of many others, to say that what is going on is absolutely unconscionable, inhumane and intolerable.”
She was not alone in her disapproval of the President’s immigration policy.
“In many places around the world we watch children who are separated from their families and their parents because of war, because of natural disasters, because they’re refugees and they’re traveling across a border,” said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Fairfield-based Save the Children. “In my 20 years at Save the Children, I have never seen children separated specifically from their parents when they’re crossing the border. This is completely unacceptable.”
Connor addressed a crowd of refugees from the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Syria and many other countries around the world, some of whom have been in Connecticut for only weeks, others of whom have been in the state for years.
Nearby the food tent -- under which an impressive potluck of dishes native to the refugees was displayed -- a group of men were playing soccer. Mohamad Al Khan, who came to Bridgeport with the help of CIRI in 2017 from Damascus, Syria, where for 14 years he worked detailing cars in a body shop, looked on. He’s still looking for work in his new home.
Next to him was Zeri Abbe Zeri, who came to Bridgeport 18 months ago. He was born in Eritrea and is a medical doctor who spent 30 years working in Sudanese refugee camps before coming to Connecticut. He speaks five languages, including Tigrinya, Arabic and English, though he said Americans often have trouble deciphering his thick accent.
Elsewhere, children lined up to have their faces painted, played their own games of soccer and entertained themselves in the “play space” set up on the outskirts of the picnic, which Angelica Cadavid, of Save the Children, said is a replica of the play spaces the organization creates in shelters and refugee camps around the world.
Visitors could also buy products from Our Woven Community — a project run out of the Burroughs Community Center which teachers refugee women to use sewing machines to create handbags, scarves and other items for sale — the profits from which benefit refugee women.
Lamboginny, a Nigerian musician and prison reform activist, was a special guest. He led the crowd in a singalong of his song “I Believe in Africa,” and spoke on the importance of unity across border lines.
“Everything I have as a young man, everything I have I count myself privileged, because everything God has given me, including my talent and my voice, I can give to someone else,” Lamboginny said. “The fact that I have it, every day of my life I wake up and all I think about is, ‘How can I use my talent and the voice that God has given me to better the lives of everybody around me, regardless of who they are and where they come from?’”
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