World Refugee Day events set to recognize those 'forced to flee'

The photo shows participants in a performance at a World Refugee Day event held in June 2023 at Millcreek and hosted by the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

The photo shows participants in a performance at a World Refugee Day event held in June 2023 at Millcreek and hosted by the Utah Department of Workforce Services. (Utah Department of Workforce Services)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Some 70,000 refugees from around the globe now call Utah home, and in a bid to recognize the struggles they've faced, two events are slated this week in Utah in connection with World Refugee Day.

Catholic Community Services of Utah is hosting an event, Journeys to Refuge, on Thursday from 5-8 p.m. at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. The Utah Department of Workforce Services Refugee Services Office marks World Refugee Day with activities on Friday from 6-11 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at Big Cottonwood Regional Park in Millcreek.

"I can't think of a better time to connect with and learn from one another," said Mario Kljajo, director of the refugee services office. "This is truly a celebration of the vibrancy, resilience and dedication of our refugee friends and neighbors."

The Catholic Community Services and Department of Workforce Services events will feature performances from refugees from around the world, activities for kids, food booths and vendors, information about the refugees' home countries and more. Aden Batar, director of migration and refugee services for Catholic Community Services, sees the World Refugee Day activities as a way of underscoring "the difficult journey" refugees are forced to take to survive.

World Refugee Day, designated by the United Nations as June 20 each year, aims to honor those "who have been forced to flee," as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees puts it. "Together, we can champion their right to seek safety, build support for their economic and social inclusion and advocate for solutions to their plight."

Becky Wickstrom, spokeswoman for the Utah Refugee Services Office, estimates there are around 70,000 refugees now living in Utah. Recent waves of refugees have come from Afghanistan and Ukraine, she said, while more have come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Venezuela and Syria. Between Oct. 1 last year and April 30, she said, 1,101 refugees came to Utah, not including 37 who moved here from other U.S. states. Operation Allies Welcome led to the arrival of 913 Afghans to Utah between October 2021 and June 2022, she said, while around 800 came from Ukraine between May 2022 and March 2023.

Refugees come to the United States, typically, after a long process of vetting, frequently from United Nations refugee camps abroad. Typically, they face persecution in their home countries due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership in a "particular social group." They are distinct from immigrants crossing into the United States via the southern border, whether they seek asylum or not.

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ImmigrationMulticultural UtahUtahPoliticsSalt Lake County
Tim Vandenack covers immigration, multicultural issues and Northern Utah for KSL.com. He worked several years for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden and has lived and reported in Mexico, Chile and along the U.S.-Mexico border.

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