SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Imagine having to leave everything you have behind. Imagine fearing what tomorrow will bring, because your family could be attacked at any time. Imagine starting your life over in a new country where everything is unfamiliar and different.
That’s a reality most Americans will never experience, but for millions of refugees around the world, it’s the story of their lives.
Said Issa was one of those refugees. After coming to Utah from Ethiopia and fleeing from his native country of Burundi in 2013, he thought he would never step foot in a refugee camp again.
“It was scary. Although I was just a child at the time, I remember my parents being concerned for our safety,” said Issa. “We had no choice but to leave because of the conflict and violence. Then in the refugee camps, we had to worry about nutrition, health care, education, etc.”
On Monday, Issa stepped foot into a refugee camp again, but it was a mock refugee camp set up by Catholic Community Services (CCS) of Utah at the Gallivan Center for their second annual ‘Forced to Flee: A Refugee Journey.’
He joined other refugees in sharing their stories of survival and resilience.
“It wasn’t easy. My parents’ biggest concern was how we were going to start over in a place where we didn’t know the language or the culture,” said Issa.
Aden Batar, Director of Migration and Refugee Services for CCS Utah said approximately 68.5 million people around the world are displaced and forced to flee their homes due to persecution and conflict. He said Utah welcomed an average of 1,200 refugees per year until 2016 when the number dropped to 400.
“I was a refugee myself. I have experienced the hardships myself. It’s not something that a human being wants to go through,” said Batar. “This event is a statement not just to the community, but also to our political leaders that we need to open our arms to more refugees again.”
Monday’s exhibit consisted of reenacted refugee camp tents and posters of refugee portraits and their stories.
“We got the idea because we want the community to learn and know about what refugees have to go through before they get to the United States,” said Batar.
Batar hopes that by providing a place where community members can interact with refugees, they can foster meaningful relationships and break down negative perceptions about refugees.
“We want people to open their hearts when they see a refugee, welcome them into their neighborhood and their communities. If you’re an employer, give a job to a refugee. If you are a landlord, rent to a refugee,” he said.