SALT LAKE CITY — Festivities in Liberty Park Saturday celebrated refugees and their cultures, while encouraging Utans to get involved with the transplanted community.
Since the Vietnam War, some 50,000 people have settled in Utah as refugees, and many live in the Salt Lake Valley. Saturday's World Refugee Day celebration was a diverse cultural event featuring food, cultural performances and crafts from various countries, as well as a market and soccer game.
Utah's newly appointed Refugee Ambassador Thurl Bailey joined the celebration of World Refugee Day. Bailey wants all refugees living in Utah to feel welcome and part of the community.
"This is a place that takes care of our own and these folks are our own," Bailey said.
Refugees who arrive in Utah have a long road ahead of them as they settle in. They have to overcome language barriers, find a job and integrate themselves into the community. But many earn college degrees here and work hard giving back to the community. Saturday, several refugees were sworn in as American citizens.
Among those who gained citizenship Saturday was Anja Jokic, who, at the age of 12, came to Utah with her family as a refugee from Bosnia.
"Since we didn't have any family, they just kind of sent us to Utah. We didn't really know where we were going," she said. "It's definitely exciting and emotional. I've lived here so long, I definitely want to feel part of it now."
People like Pouk Pouk and his friend Philip Leko, who fled Sudan during a civil war, are grateful they were able to start over and raise their families in America.
"I'm so glad I made it to this country. I'm so free in this nation. I'm so glad I'm part of it," Pouk said. "You can't even imagine how bad it was, people getting killed."