Downtown Durham came alive Saturday to the sights and sounds of the Middle East and Africa.
Hundreds of residents, old and new, gathered at Durham Central Park to celebrate the city’s first Durham Refugee Day, honoring immigrants living in Durham.
The idea for the celebration, organized by Durham-based refugee resettlement agencies Church World Service and World Relief, came about earlier this year after the Durham City Council passed a resolution opposing President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily excluding refugees from some Muslim countries.
“It’s a show of welcome and solidarity for refugees resettling to Durham from other countries and also other immigrant neighbors from around the world,” said Ellen Andrews, director of Church World Service’s Immigration and Refugee Office.
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Andrews said Durham resettles some 450 refugees a year, the majority of whom come from Iraq, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Ethiopia.
“It’s a celebration of welcome for folks who are escaping persecution,” Andrews said of Refugee Day.
Lenny Ndayisaba from the Republic of Congo emceed Saturday’s event. He said he and other refugees and immigrants appreciate Durham’s generosity and caring spirit.
“We thank the people of Durham for supporting us,” Ndayisaba said.
Mayor Bill Bell said Durham has a rich history and prides itself on its diversity.
“It’s a city that’s a very welcome and caring community,” Bell said. “I think when you see days such as this and events such as this,it just proves how much the city cares about all of us.”
Bell said the refugee community is an important part of Durham.
“They provide many things in many different ways,” Bell said. “We’re a city that talks about being an innovative city, and certainly the refugees here provide for that innovation.”
Saturday’s celebration included music, food, dance, speakers and several entertaining youth soccer matches.
And the playground at Central Park also got plenty of action.
Pakistani Humeera Ahmad spoke to the crowd of several hundred people through an interpreter.
Ahmad spoke glowingly of the agencies that helped her family resettle in Durham and grew emotional when talking about family members who did not make the journey.
In an interview, Ahmad said she is grateful to have settled in such a caring community.
And when asked what she likes most about America, Ahmad, who only speaks a little English, smiled and said “Everything.”