CFMS hosts community events in honor of World Refugee Day 2016

June 6, 2016

By Ethan Senser, research intern at the Center for Forced Migration Studies

Since 2001, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has recognized and commemorated June 20 as World Refugee Day. Throughout the world, the day is used to draw attention to and honor the nearly 60 million people who have fled their homes due to war and persecution. With record numbers of people fleeing from conflict zones around the world, and an increasing number of countries sealing off their borders to refugees, such a day would seem to be a somber affair.

World Refugee Day march

But for the Center for Forced Migration Studies (CFMS) and the other organizers of this year’s World Refugee Day events in Chicago, the day represents more than just a showing of support for refugees abroad, but also a celebration of how refugees have become a part of society in the US.

“What we are particularly interested in is the potential for World Refugee Day in contributing to creating welcoming communities,” CFMS director Galya Ruffer explains. “World Refugee Day is a time when communities and refugees come together, with refugees as a part of the community itself.”

Who makes up Chicago's refugee community?

In the past 10 years, more than 10,000 refugees have settled in Chicago, according to data provided by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (Department of State).

In that time, the city has received the most refugees from:

  • Iraq
  • Burma
  • Bhutan
  • Somalia
  • Democratic Republic of Congo

Last year, 100 Syrian refugees were resettled in Chicago in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. 

They join the numerous refugee communities whom have come to call Chicago home over the past century, from Jews fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II, to Vietnamese “boat people” in the late 1970s, to a range of refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America whom came to settle in Chicago throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Celebrating World Refugee Day in Chicago

This year’s World Refugee Day event took place on on June 4 at Foster Beach in Chicago, which kicked off with a rally and march with the theme of “One Human Family.” The rest of the day was devoted to having fun, with youth activities, world music, a soccer tournament, and potluck lunch. The event was organized by a consortium of refugee-associated organizations, including Refugee One, Heartland Alliance, Catholic Charities, World Relief, and the Illinois Department of Human Services, among others. 

On June 16, a lunchtime cultural program will also be held at Chicago's Daley Plaza. The event will feature a variety of performances, artistic displays, guest speakers and resources showcasing the vitality of Chicago’s refugee community. For Ruffer, the power of the events are their ability to highlight not only the lives of refugees, but also the ways refugees contribute to and enrich the larger community:

“Otherwise, people don’t know that there are refugees living among us,” says Ruffer, “and World Refugee Day is a time for us to say that, look, refugees are a part of the community. Integration is a two-way street.”

If you are interested in volunteering for the June 16 event, sign up here.