KNOXVILLE - The United Nations declares every June 20 World Refugee Day and to celebrate, The Bridge Refugee Services planned more than a week of activities to engage Knoxville's refugee population and the general public.
"We think as Americans we have values of welcoming and hospitality, and we treat people like we want to be treated," The Bridge executive director Drocella Mugorewera said. "So welcoming refugees for us is a privilege, but it's also a duty.
The Bridge is responsible for resettling refugees in Knoxville and Chattanooga. During the current fiscal year, Knoxville is expected to resettle 245. So far, 102 people have called East Tennessee their new home.
U.S. law defines a refugee as a person outside their country of origin who is the subject of persecution or fears persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political beliefs.
Mugorewera says on average, screening for refugees takes between one and a half to three years. Refugees do not choose where they are relocated.
"Refugees are bringing social, cultural and economic values. They're entrepreneurs," Mugorewera said.
The goal of The Bridge and other resettlement programs is to help refugees become economically self-sufficient as quickly as possible.
"When you come here you start from scratch," Mugorewera said.
The Bridge helps refugees secure housing, find jobs and learn English.
Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that around half of new refugees who take part in a refugee resettlement program like The Bridge find a job within eight months. About 75 percent of those keep the job for at least 90 days.
"When you get good services, English learning, get employed and get connected to the community, they are giving back and the supportive community is behind us," Mugorewera said.
One refugee giving back is Nader Mashy. He and his family fled Sudan in 2001. After seven years in Egypt, they were resettled in Knoxville.
He and four other refugees started a soccer team as a way to mentor the youth in Knoxville's African community.
"We know a lot of young African kids that were kind of lost," Mashy said. "We want to talk to them and get them in the right direction and the only way we could get a hold of them is through soccer."
Mashy and the other older refugees use the sport as an avenue to talk about the parts of life more important than sports.
"We could see that they wanted to do better, but they don't know how to do better because they're no footsteps for them to follow," Mashy said.
Five players on the team graduated from high school this Spring and are moving on to the next chapters in their lives.
A report released this month by the Migration Policy Institute shows that adult refugees are as likely as the U.S. born to hold at least a bachelor's degree, although there is variation among different refugees populations.
"They are giving back and the supportive community is behind us," Mugorewera said. "So we want to be become a more and more welcoming community."
The Bridge has several events for the public the remainder of the week.
On Monday at 6 p.m. there will be a meet and greet at Honeybee Coffee on Sevier Avenue in South Knoxville.
On Tuesday, The Bridge will host a family movie night at The Muse Knoxville at 516 N. Beaman St. starting at 6 p.m.
You can find the full list of upcoming events HERE.
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