What would it take for you to pack a bag tonight, grab your kids and leave your home forever to try to find safety in another country?

If you don’t know, ask a member of Maine’s refugee community, because that’s what they had to do. You will likely hear a story of courage, initiative, creativity and often good luck that enabled them to make it. You may also hear the gratitude that these people on the run have for the ones who welcomed them and offered shelter when they needed it most.

Today, June 20, is World Refugee Day, designated by the United Nations to honor the strength and courage of people who have had to leave their home country to escape war or persecution. In Portland, the Maine Immigrant Welcome Center will hold an public event in Congress Square Park, with speakers and live music between 5 and 7 p.m..

“For the past few decades, Portland has been accepting and welcoming the world’s displaced people and offering them the opportunity to start a new life,” said Reza Jalali, the Executive Director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center. “On Monday we will celebrate the contributions of New Mainers to the state we love so much and thank Portland for helping us feel welcome and at home.”

Under international and U.S. law, a refugee is any person who is unable to return to their home country out of a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. In America, there are two programs for refugees, refugee resettlement and asylum, which differ primarily in whether the claims are evaluated here or abroad.

Refugees have been coming to America under these programs since 1980, and they have become part of communities everywhere. Maine has opened its doors to refugees from Southeast Asia, the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East, and Africa who, along with other immigrants, are poised to play an important role in our future together.

This year’s World Refugee Day comes as the number of people displaced by persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or other events, reached 100 million, more than twice as many as a decade ago. About a half are displaced within their home country and the rest are dispersed around the globe.

The United States was a leader in accepting refugees for many years, but that changed in 2017. Under the Trump administration , refugee admission plummeted from 84,000 in 2016 to 11,000 in 2020, a nearly 90 percent drop. The Biden administration has restored the limit of new refugee admissions to pre-Trump levels, but actual admissions are still stuck at the bottom.

World Refugee Day is a good opportunity to celebrate with the people who have made a long difficult journey, and to advocate for the people who haven’t been able to make it yet. We need them to join us and build our shared future.

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