Twin Cities celebrates World Refugee Day Saturday


Jameelah Hassoon had worked as an anesthesiologist in Iraq for over 20 years. In 2005, the situation in her country became too dangerous to stay. Extremists were targeting anyone working for United States affiliated companies. Her husband was, so they escaped to Jordan where they stayed for four years before finding refuge in the United States.

[jump] She is one of the honorary chairs who will be speaking about her life experiences during the Twin Cities World Refugee Day, taking place on Saturday. The event brings together the refugee community living in Minnesota for a day of kids games, cultural activities, performances, education, and more.

Hassoon now works as a medical interpreter for the Middle Eastern refugee community. She says she’s grateful for the opportunities she’s had in the United States, but has concerns about newer refugees who are having a more difficult time finding refuge. Her sister-in-law, for example, isn’t able to bring her children here. One is living in Iraq and the other is in Jordan, in part because of a rule that says people over 21 years of age are considered a separate case. Hassoon was 45 when she fled Iraq, where she left memories, friends, and family members, including her brother and sister, who can’t get visas to come and visit.

“I would like to go back, but right now it’s too dangerous,” she says. “I am hoping that this will be settled soon.” In the meantime, she is able to communicate with her family through Skype and other services, and she brings back memories through the music, food, and arts of her culture.

The event was first celebrated 15 years ago after the United Nations declared June 20 World Refugee Day. Early on it was just a picnic held by various refugee agencies and organizations in Minnesota. In 2007, they expanded it to become a festival to be held in a different location each year.

This year’s event at Arlington Hills Community Center is in an area where a large Karen population lives. “We wanted the festival there to honor their stories,” says Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, event chair for the Twin Cities World Refugee Day. While there have been problems in the neighborhood, such as crime, Vongsay says that’s turning around, and the committee wanted people to know that the center is a space they can use to find resources. 

Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay

Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay

The fair will have a cultural stage, hosted by Ifrah Mansour and Ibe Kaba, primarily featuring dance groups who are self-identified refugee artists or artists who do art forms that are practiced by refugee communities. In addition, their are children’s activities, sponsored by the East Side Arts Council, and an education tent run by the first Vietnamese librarian in St. Paul, Phuoc Tron.

There will also be a resource fair with 40 different organizations doing giveaways and providing information.

Vongsay, who herself was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, first participated in World Refugee Day in 2012, where she told Lao folktales. “I had a lot of fun,” she says. “I’m drawn to anything refugee related, especially arts and culture related.” She had so much fun on the planning committee, that she was eventually made chair of the logistics committee, and now she’s event chair. “It’s a huge labor of love,” she says.


Twin Cities World Refugee Day

Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday

Arlington Hills Community Center

1200 Payne Ave. S., Minneapolis