Acknowledging Refugees

Tucson World RefugeeFEST, June 23, 2012

In slightly belated honor of World Refugee Day, the fourth annual Tucson World RefugeeFEST—which includes music, art, dance and ethnic foods, as well as an indoor soccer tournament—will be held this Saturday, June 23.

The purpose of RefugeeFEST is to educate Tucsonans about the city's refugee population and to acknowledge the trials that refugees have gone through, both in their home countries and in their journeys to the United States.

Members of the planning committee expect about 3,000 people to turn out, now that the festival has been moved indoors to give participants a break from the heat, said Mia Hansen, a member of the RefugeeFEST committee.

The soccer tournament kicks off the festival at 9 a.m.

"Most people come from places where there's a refugee camp, and soccer is the No. 1 sport," Hansen said. "Many of the refugee community members here, in their challenges and struggles to become residents, want to play soccer to relax. The organizers thought soccer was a great idea. And we like the healthy competition."

The soccer tournament lasts all day, and winners will be honored at the close of the festival. Attendees are encouraged to enjoy the other festival attractions while they wait for their favorite teams to play.

However, attendees don't need to be interested in soccer to enjoy RefugeeFEST. Other attractions include music, dancing, hands-on arts and crafts activities, poetry, cultural exhibits from the refugees' home countries, and a variety of traditional dishes from those countries. The festival also includes a Kids' Corral, where children are entertained with soccer and other games while their parents explore the information booths. People from Afghanistan, Iraq, Bhutan, Burundi, Somalia, Sudan, Burma, Bosnia and Cambodia will be represented.

Highlights of the festival will include about 50 refugees taking the oath of citizenship, and becoming U.S. citizens. Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías are slated to be on hand to witness the ceremony.

Something new this year is the Festival Fun Bus, a free shuttle that will pick up refugees and take them to the festival, so that a lack of transportation doesn't keep away those who don't have cars or couldn't otherwise get to the festival site.

In 2001, the United Nations' high commissioner for refugees set World Refugee Day as June 20 each year. Since then, countries have created programs to honor refugees worldwide.

"I think that in Tucson, many people may not realize that we have always been a crossroads of cultures," Hansen said. "This is a great way to come and learn about your neighbors ... to come and learn about an aspect and a population of our community who are becoming the newest residents of Tucson."

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