Over 500 families of refugees and people eligible for refugee status settle in Nevada each year. Most refugees settle in Southern Nevada with help from two organizations, Catholic Charities and ECDC African Community Center. The two organizations and dozens of refugee families marked World Refugee Day on June 20 in southwest Las Vegas.
Over 70 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced from their home countries, according to data from the UN Refugee Agency.
World Refugee Day is an international day of observance to highlight the world refugee crisis and bring awareness to the success refugees have brought to our community, said Carisa Lopez-Ramirez, vice president of immigration and migration services at Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities, with ECDC African Community Center, observed World Refugee Day at Bevan Hall at Our Lady of Las Vegas School. Twenty-five community groups set up tables throughout the hall with information and resources for refugee families. The day also included cultural entertainment from the Clark County School District, raffle prizes and traditional dishes from Ethiopia, El Salvador, the Philippines, the Middle East and North America.
Dozens of families were in attendance, and children ran around doing crafts, eating food and banging on the drums at the center of the hall.
Mkangya Etonde, 12, was one of those kids. He was at the craft table with some friends and explained he has spent the last two years in Las Vegas after his family moved from Congo. He lives in Las Vegas with his mother, two sisters, brother and two cousins, who all came from Africa.
He said the most difficult parts about being in Las Vegas are learning English and the bullies at school.
Mkangya was all smiles on Thursday, snapping photos of his friends throughout Bevan Hall.
Samah Al Natour, 30, was also in attendance with her family. She arrived in Las Vegas in September 2016, from Syria.
Al Natour said she left Syria because of the civil war.
“It wasn’t safe,” Al Natour said.
She added that the trip was very long, but she plans on staying in the city for a while.
“I love everything (about Las Vegas); I like the colors, the unity and living with my family,” Al Natour said.
Lopez-Ramirez said she is amazed by the strength and resilience refugee families have.
She explained that refugees arriving to the U.S. through the reception and placement program are connected to a local resettlement agency that must follow some core requirements, like preparing an apartment, picking them up from the airport and providing access to education.
Refugee-eligible populations arrive in the U.S. on their own and apply for asylum, Lopez-Ramirez said. Once they are approved, they are eligible for refugee services, she added.
Lopez-Ramirez said cultural orientation is a big part of everything Catholic Charities does for refugee families.
“You want to be able to inform them what the norms are in the county,” she said.