Over the weekend, guests from all over metro Atlanta gathered at Refuge Coffee Company in Clarkston to celebrate and honor the state’s refugee communities ahead of World Refugee Day on June 20th.
The holiday is the brainchild of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which launched the #WithRefugees petition in June 2016 to urge governments to work together and do their part to help.
According to the UNHCR, one person is forcibly displaced from their homes due to conflict, persecution or natural disaster every two seconds.
“We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record,” the agency’s official website states.
Clarkston’s World Refugee Day event was hosted Saturday by the Georgia Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies, an alliance of 17 local immigrant- and refugee-serving organizations, such as the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Charities Atlanta.
Guests enjoyed an afternoon of traditional music and dance performances from Peruvian Cultural Association Aklla Sumaq, the Center of Pan Asian Services' senior drum group and perused cultural treats and goods at the vendors market, where local immigrant- and refugee-run business owners set up shop.
Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson joined Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry in welcoming the diverse community to a city often called “the Ellis Island of the South.” About 32% of Clarkston’s 13,000 residents are either immigrants or refugees.
Refugees in America, Georgia
While the United States has historically led the way with global refugee resettlement, in January 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning entry to individuals from countries deemed high-risk, including some of the world’s largest sources of refugees, from entering the U.S. Since then, the numbers of new arrivals all over the country, including in Georgia, have dramatically declined.
The administration’s refugee admissions goal for 2019 is 30,000, the lowest number in 40 years. According to the CRSA, the country is not even on track to meet the reduced goal.
“Without the refugee resettlement program, these individuals we are lucky to have as neighbors—who enrich our communities and contribute to our state—would not be here. While we celebrate those who have been able to rebuild their lives here in Georgia, we must not forget the families who have been turned away from America’s door in their time of need,” CRSA officials wrote on Facebook ahead of the Clarkston event.
Georgia, which has traditionally welcomed refugees and is among the top 10 states for new refugee arrivals, welcomed 2,000 to 3,000 individuals each year up until 2017. Data from the federal Refugee Processing Center, which is part of the State Department, found only 755 refugees arrived in the state as of May 2019. Compare that to the nearly 1,000 in the last three months of 2016.
Georgia’s refugees represent a multitude of faiths and hail from all over the world, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bhutan, Nepal, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Myanmar, Liberia, Sudan, Vietnam and more.
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