A message given to Salem refugees: you are welcome here

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A message given to Salem refugees: you are welcome here

11:16 a.m. PDT June 20, 2016

There weren’t enough chairs to hold the dozens of people who gathered at the Peace Plaza in Salem on Sunday afternoon to welcome the about 60 refugees resettling in the area this year.

The Salem chapter of the United Nations Association and partnering groups welcomed refugees from countries such as Cuba, Burma, Bhutan, Iran, Iraq, and Somalia to the Salem-Keizer area and celebrated the local Refugee Resettlement Program at the event.

“Welcome to this community, which is now your own,” said Richard Davis, senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Salem, addressing the crowd. He wished the refugees comfort, friendship and opportunity for themselves and their families.

This message echoed in the sentiments of the many presenters and performers of the event, and continued in the claps and cheers of audience members.

“We need to stop building walls between ourselves,” said Marilyn Williams, a pastor with Salem Mission Faith Ministries. “We need to welcome our brothers and sisters.”

The celebration was on the eve of World Refugee Day, which is Monday.

Ali Al-Omrani, a refugee from Iraq, and Joel Nzabakiza, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, both gave brief accounts of their personal experiences coming to Salem and Keizer.

They both mentioned finding family in the community — Al-Omrani saying that camaraderie is the reason he loves Salem; Nzabakiza saying those who have welcomed him have not only become his family, but have helped him learn many things.

Janet Parker, senior pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, said Salem is one of many communities around the world now welcoming refugees, stressing the importance of “welcoming a stranger.”

She told the crowd to remember, “We are a lot more powerful than we think,” and to use the influence they have to help.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745 or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate or http://www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist

Refugee growth in Oregon

According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, more than 64,000 refugees have resettled in Oregon since 1975. Most of these refugees initially settle in the greater Portland metro area.

Currently, the most common refugee groups arriving in Oregon are from, Cuba, Burma, Bhutan, Iran, Iraq, and Somalia.

Oregon’s refugee arrival populations from the past 15 years:

  • 2015: 1,357
  • 2014: 1,246
  • 2013: 1,105
  • 2012: 986
  • 2011: 944
  • 2010: 1,185
  • 2009: 820
  • 2008: 811
  • 2007: 830
  • 2006: 1,135
  • 2005: 1,142
  • 2004: 1,660
  • 2003: 912
  • 2002: 1,126
  • 2001: 1,582
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