Clarkston, GA — Clarkston held its annual celebration of World Refugee Day at Refuge Coffee on June 25. The event, organized by the Coalition of Refugee Service Agencies, included drummers, dancers, and comments from Clarkston city Councilmember Laura Hopkins, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, and Sen. Jon Ossoff.
Darlene Lynch is co-chair of CRSA and head of external relations for the Center for Victims of Torture which provides mental health care and support for refugee survivors of war and torture. She described the annual event as a celebration of the courage and resilience of refugees.
“Today the world is experiencing a refugee crisis like it has never known, with more than 100 million people displaced by violence and conflict in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Syria, South Sudan, Myanmar and other countries across the globe,” said Lynch.
Several speakers described Clarkston’s reputation as a welcoming city for refugees, sometimes called “the Ellis Island of the South.”
Councilmember Hopkins said that Clarkston strives to live up to its reputation and at the last city council meeting the city had created a department of diversity that among other things would help provide translations to enable access to city programs.
“We are here to support the residents of Clarkston. We are glad you’re here,” said Hopkins.
Lynch pointed out that 50% of Clarkston residents are foreign born.
“Georgians have made Georgia a top ten state for embracing refugees and making them new neighbors and friends,” said Lynch.
Sen. Ossoff also emphasized the role that Clarkston and the state as a whole play.
“Clarkston, Georgia, DeKalb County, our state and our country must remain a beacon to the world for inclusion, openness, love and human rights,” said Ossoff. “… I actually taught summer camp with what was then Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta, now New American Pathways, when I was a high school student, so this is not new to me.”
He encouraged residents to contact his staff to help them and family members negotiate refugee and immigration status problems.
Rep. Johnson spoke of “the American dream” as something shared universally throughout the world, but not accessible to everyone.
“It’s nothing more than to be able to make a way for oneself, one’s family, and to see our children have better opportunities than we had,” said Johnson.
Johnson went on to say that when people are forced to leave their homes because of violence or economic necessity, they need somewhere to go, be welcome and pursue their own version of that dream.
“Clarkston has been such a place,” he added.
Booths for refugee aid organizations and businesses owned by individual refugees were also part of the event.
Maria Alvarez of LATN Language Solutions said that the Atlanta-based organization provides translation and interpreting services in over 150 languages, including American Sign Language. LATN was present not only to advertise services, but to seek potential interpreters.
“Recently, we have had a higher need for languages from Afghanistan, so Dari and Pashtu, and also Ukrainian,” said Alvarez.
Alvarez added that while normally any agency or program with Federal funding is supposed to provide translation, that the US Immigration office requires applicants to bring their own translators.
Marmar Stewart of Refugee Women’s Network located on Columbia Drive in Decatur, said that their Chef’s Club program helps refugee women by holding events where they are able to share their food and knowledge of their home cuisines with the public.
Some have gone on to build catering businesses like Deeba Rahmati’s Deeba’s Afghan Kitchen. Stewart said that the organization hoped to expand their program by providing commercial kitchen space, and that the response is generally very enthusiastic.
“It’s the home cooking that everyone wants,” said Stewart.
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