People see news footage of refugees scrambling for their lives and feel pain and pity. But what refugees really are looking for is understanding, and maybe a little direction.
Enter World Refugee Day, a day set aside in the year 2000 by the U.N. General Assembly. Utah's celebration will be today, with refugees showcasing their culture and cuisine at Granite High School from 4 to 8 p.m. It will also be a chance for newcomers from other lands to learn the ins and outs of American life from mass transportation to the social services that are available. All are invited.
Utah is currently home to more than 19,000 refugees from around the world. Compared to the millions of people milling about in the Third World looking for a safe haven, that is not a big number. Still, here as elsewhere if the lives of refugees are filled with bewilderment, so are the minds of those who try to understand and help. Just the word "refugee" triggers dozens of conflicting impressions. Political refugees are one thing Peruvians, say, forced to run for their lives from Shining Path guerrillas but what about economic refugees the destitute Mexicans, for instance, who must choose between staying put and starving or taking flight into a strange land. There's even a murky area when it comes to Cuban refugees trying to escape the iron fist of Fidel Castro's Communist regime. If they can get a foot down in the United States, they're considered political refugees. If they are apprehended at sea, a mere yard from land, they are sent back to their homeland and their harrowing fate.
It is such muddled thinking and mixed impressions that make World Refugee Day a good idea. It is a day to set aside all the quibbling and get to know Utah's newcomers not as "a type of people" but as people.
Taking a cue from other states, Utahns might also use the day to learn about the refugees who now inhabit 60 different nations. On www.refugees.org, those interested can also find ways for getting involved with refugees with disabilities, with giving legal aid to children here without their parents and also to find detailed information on the wave of refugees sweeping the planet.