Refugees get taste of American tradition with Catholic Charities of Louisville's Thanksgiving dinner

11/25/2015 07:40 PM

For many, Wednesday’s Thanksgiving meal served at the Catholic Charities of Louisville’s campus was their first taste of traditional American holiday fare.

The few hundred who gathered at the downtown Louisville church have fled terrorism and oppression en route to the U.S., some with just a single piece of luggage shared among a family of eight.

As the country’s attention focuses on refugees from war-torn Syria after a passport from the country was found in the aftermath of an Islamic State attack in Paris that left 130 dead, officials at the Catholic Charities of Louisville say they hope to show refugees in a more positive light.

“It’s very important to remember that when we talk about refugees, these are people,” said Colin Triplett, director of migration and refugee services. “These are people that we have welcomed to the United States that are here to be a net contributor to our community, to work, to pay taxes, to open up small businesses, so it’s very important to put a face with an issue and to see that these are just human beings just like you or me.”

Triplett says it’s the first time the Catholic Charities of Louisville has had a Thanksgiving first on that scale, but it won’t be the last. Students of the organization’s culinary class prepared the meal, he said.

Political discourse against Syrian refugees has amplified considerably in the Paris attack’s wake, with the U.S. House of Representatives passing a bill with a veto-proof majority on Thursday to suspend and re-examine the country’s refugee program for Syrians and Iraqis.

Even before the Nov. 13 terrorist attack, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said he would send the thousands of Syrian refugees back to their country, a point he’s reiterated in recent days. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, invoking the 2011 arrest of two terrorism-linked Iraqi refugees in Bowling Green, introduced a bill in Congress that would block visas for those coming from nations with jihadist movements. Gov.-elect Matt Bevin joined a chorus of more than two dozen governors opposed to resettling Syrian refugees, saying in a statement that their transition to the U.S. should be halted “until we can better determine the full extent of any risks to our citizens.”

Despite the ramped-up rhetoric, however, Louisville remains a welcome home for refugees from Syria and elsewhere throughout the world, said Abanur Saidi, resettlement manager for Catholic Charities of Louisville who himself came here as a Somalian refugee nearly 20 years ago.

The group has helped 26 Syrians thus far this fiscal year, with a total of about 275 expected through the end of the fiscal calendar, according to figures provided to Pure Politics.

“It’s normal for any country when things like this are happening to react like that after,” Saidi said. “Then they do assessments and things like that, maybe they realize that these are not the folks that are causing all these problems. Other folks are causing them, and that’s why they’re fleeing the country.”

Saidi noted that the process for clearing and accepting refugees in the U.S. typically takes 18 to 24 months.

The chance at a new life is worth the wait, particularly when others are at stake, he says.

“Many of the parents when you talk to them, including myself, I’m here for my kids, for them to get education, better life and move on,” he said. “Not for me. If I have to be sent back home, if they remain here, I want them to be here and be educated and move forward and be in this country.”


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