‘Journeys to Refuge’ highlights diversity of some Utah residents who come from far places

Friday, Jun. 28, 2024
‘Journeys to Refuge’ highlights diversity of some Utah residents who come from far places + Enlarge
Those who attended the Catholic Community Services’ “Journeys to Refuge” were able to find out information about all of the agency’s programs.
By Linda Petersen
Intermountain Catholic

Each year Catholic Community Services of Utah hosts an event in June in conjunction with National Refugee Month. This year the event, “Journeys to Refuge,” was held at Liberty Park on National Refugee Day, June 20.

“It’s important to hold this event each year to inform Utahns about these refugees who are joining their community and how they can get involved in welcoming them,” said Alexis Arnold, refugee resettlement manager. “We really want Utahns to understand who refugees are, where they’re coming from, their backgrounds and their culture so that they can be enriched by their experiences and learn how they can serve them and welcome them better.”

Those who attended “Journeys to Refuge” this year could visit several tables to learn about the home countries of some of the refugees who have been helped by the organization, along with finding out about the agency’s programs and how they could volunteer or donate to assist with that need.

Several staff members are themselves former refugees. Both Julia Pylypenqo and Victoria Holko are case managers who work with refugees from their home country, Ukraine. Holko has lived in Utah for 20 years; Pylypenqo has been here since the war broke out in Ukraine.

“We do a service for refugees from across the world: help with driving licenses, to look for jobs, fill [out] their CV and bills, to improve their careers if it’s possible,” Pylypenqo said. “We also do traditional events like screening movies and popular Ukrainian culture.”

Yvette Messaka is a guest worker assistant at CCS. After leaving her home, the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2007 due to a civil war Messaka spent several years in Rwanda and Uganda before emigrating to the United States in 2011. At that time her daughter Vanessa was an infant.

The U.S. welcomes everyone, “and then we have an opportunity to have a job and school for kids and good careers,” Yvette Messaka said of her American experience.

The Messakas appreciated the opportunity to share about their country at the event.

“Congo is a beautiful country,” Yvette Messaka said. “We have great natural stuff such as our foods, and before the war we had a good economy.”

This year CCS will have helped resettle 600 refugees, said CCS’ Migration and Refugee Services Director Aden Batar, who also is a former refugee. In 1994 he, his wife Asho and infant son Jamal came to Utah as the first Somalian refugee family in the state.

Over the past three and a half years the federal government has increased the number of refugees it has allowed into the U.S., Batar said.

Under the previous presidential administration, the number of refugees allowed into this country was cut back, but “this year would be the first year since Biden came to office we are reaching 125,000 refugees who will be allowed to come into the U.S.,” Batar said. “So we’ve seen a lot of refugees, people that have [had] their cases on hold, they are arriving now.”

CCS has stretched its resources to provide assistance to the refugees arriving in Utah, he said, and local Catholics can do more to help. “We need all our Catholic parishes to get involved and to support our refugees. I know that [Bishop Oscar A. Solis] recently sent a letter to all the Catholic parishes, so we want each parish to get involved, to volunteer; we need more volunteers. We need foster families that would foster our unaccompanied minors and also we need donations so we can continue to serve with this tremendous many refugees.”

For information, visit https://www.ccsutah.org/.

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