A celebration marked by cultural diversity, gratitude


CAMDEN — More than 200 people participated in a World Refugee Day celebration on June 18, including a man who sang a song he wrote about how America saved his life.

Refugees are people who have left their native countries and cannot return because they face persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution, based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

The Diocese of Camden has worked with refugees since 1975. In collaboration with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities will settle some 100 refugees this year.

The World Refugee Day celebration was held at Our Lady of Grace Church Hall, now part of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Somerdale.

Most of these clients who attended the June 18 celebration are from Burma and Bhutan (Burmese and Bhutanese refugees) and from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The event also attracted many refugees from the Trenton area, as well as volunteers, donors, and friends of the refugee programs.

Many clients sang songs or danced, and many dressed in traditional outfits and brought side dishes. Catholic Charities provided the main dish of rice for the potluck and the attendees brought the rest.

Members of the Somerdale Fire Company gave a presentation with their ropes and ladder truck. (At another time Refugee and Immigration Services of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Camden facilitated a presentation by police for bicycle safety and is planning presentations from the DARE program, helmet safety and fire safety. Muller said the presentations are helpful so the refugees could learn to trust the authorities in the U.S., as most refugees are fearful of them in their homelands.)

Informational material — on refugee programs and legislative initiatives — was available for the day’s participants

“Overall, the event was a huge success. It was great for program staff, volunteers and clients to come together and enjoy an afternoon together,” said Kaitlyn Muller, program director of Refugee and Immigration Services of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Camden.

Muller said that her program runs English as a Second Language classes three times a week “and we’re training volunteers so we can run more classes during the week.”

Refugee and Immigration Services expects to have a nutrition/summer day camp for children.

“During the summer if parents are coming to study English we will allow them to bring their children because child care is an obstacle for the refugees,” said Muller. “While the parents are learning English the children will be in another classroom where nutrition will be taught.”

Muller said that her program stays involved with the refugee clients for five years, guiding them to acclimate to this society.

In commemoration of the United Nation’s World Refugee Day, which was officially celebrated June 20, Ambassador Johnny Young, executive director of Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged the United States to maintain its role as a global leader in refugee protection. “Without U.S. leadership, the situation for the world’s 15 million refugees would be much worse,” Ambassador Young said. “We must remain committed to refugee protection and to the U.S. refugee program, which saves thousands of lives each year.”

For more information about the refugee programs call Refugee and Immigration Services at 856-342-4167.