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Pittsburgh event recognizes the struggles, contributions of refugees

Women dancing
Hello Neighbor
Dancers perform at the 2023 World Refugee Day celebration in Schenley Plaza.

The United Nations established World Refugee Day in 2001 to recognize the struggles and resilience of people forced to flee conflict or persecution in their homelands.

The refugee problem has only grown. Today, the U.N. estimates there are more than 120 million refugees around the world. That’s one person in 69, nearly double the proportion of the global population represented by refugees a decade ago.

Thousands of those folks, hailing from dozens of countries, now live in Allegheny County. On Thu., June 20, they’ll be honored with this year’s edition of Pittsburgh’s own celebration of World Refugee Day.

The event runs 4-8 p.m. in Schenley Plaza, in Oakland. It features food and craft vendors from Pittsburgh’s immigrant and refugee communities as well as live music and dance. At 5 p.m., a number of new Americans will participate in a citizen ceremony.

“It’s a recognition of refugees and immigrants and the value that they bring to the communities, and seeing them for not just a label of being a refugee or an immigrant, but really being a whole person,” said Sloane Davidson, who heads Hello Neighbor, a nonprofit she founded 8 years ago to aid recently resettled refugees here.

Hello Neighbor co-organized the event along with groups including Jewish Family and Community Services (JFCS), Acculturation for Justice, Access, and Peace Outreach (AJAPO) and Bethany Christian Services.

“Most importantly, we want to celebrate the diversity and vibrance that refugees bring with them to their new communities,” said Alina Harbourne, the JFCS’ refugee partnerships supervisor.

Hello Neighbor estimates that Allegheny County is home to 6,200 refugees. (The UN estimates 40% of refugees worldwide are children.)

Last year, Davidson said, Hello Neighbor helped 3,000 refugees with everything from translation services to finding housing and medical care.

People served by Hello Neighbor claim 49 countries of origin, Davidson said.

For its part, JFCS welcomed and resettled 305 refugees, Harbourne said. She said most came from Afghanistan and Latin America (principally Colombia and Venezuela).

At the June 20 festival, the seven food vendors include Cilantro y Ajo, The Chop Spot and Tikka ’N’ Wrapz. The 14 craft vendors include Baysan Calligraphy Art, Phoza Handmade, Minimo Jewelery and Afghan Clothing.

About 1,000 guests are expected.

“I think that we can all agree that if the world were tilted just a little bit one way or another and we were forced to flee our homes, what we would want is for that new landing pad, that new place, to be warm and welcoming to us, and that’s certainly the core of what World Refugee Day is about,” said Davidson.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: