World Refugee Day celebrated on Chicago shore

'It should be our honor to welcome refugees,' says Alderman Pawar at warm-up event

 "We need to stand together and come together around our communities," says Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar. "We need to lift one another up." (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

"We need to stand together and come together around our communities," says Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar. "We need to lift one another up." (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

While President Trump sows fear about immigrants and his administration scrambles to reunite children separated from their parents at the border, Chicago celebrates World Refugee Day this weekend.

World Refugee Day was formally June 20 worldwide, but Chicago celebrates it Saturday with a gathering from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Foster Avenue Beach on the North Shore.

At a warm-up event promoting World Refugee Day at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago on Thursday, Alderman Ameya Pawar admitted to feeling despondent about the way the Trump administration has treated immigrants — slashing the annual limit on U.S. immigrants from the previous 110,000 to 45,000, and running behind even that humble pace halfway through the year.

"What keeps me going is when I see the resilience of our refugee communities," Pawar said. "Refugees are the most resilient people on this planet — many of whom have walked across continents for a safe place to live for their family and friends. They're escaping terror and persecution — all in search of a safe place.

"It should be our honor to welcome refugees to the United States of America," he added.

"We've always been welcoming," Pawar said. "Some of our darkest days are when we turned our backs on refugees." He cited the way the Jewish refugee ship St. Louis was turned away and sent back to Europe in 1939 ahead of World War II and the Holocaust. "Our most shining days," Pawar added, "are when we took in refugees and we took in immigrants and we helped people."

Pawar rallied the Daley Plaza crowd to take action. "Don't let a racist, nasty, xenophobic president let us forget who we are," he said. "We need to stand together and come together around our communities. We need to lift one another up.

"Refugees not only contribute to who we are, they contribute to our social fabric. They make the United States of America a batter place to live," Pawar added, calling on citizens to "link arms, join forces, stand with refugees, but also stand for the greater good and stand for humanity."

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston sent a statement read to the crowd explaining that she was "in Washington fighting the Trump administration policies that are shutting the doors of America to those who are so desperate to come to our shores."

She too issued a call to action. "We cannot accept Trump policies as the new normal. They do not reflect the history and values of our great nation," Schakowsky said. "Our America does not separate infants and children from parents. It does not impose a Muslim ban. It does not tell families that are terrorized to look elsewhere for help. It does not set arbitrary limits on who has a chance to live the American dream."

According to Schakowsky, the 45,000 immigrants to be allowed in the United States this year is "the lowest in American history."

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"The mental-health issues that we're seeing in that population are akin to what we see when we go to a war zone."

Erin Ching of Doctors Without Borders (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Erin Ching, spokeswoman for Doctors Without Borders, said the current 16.5 million refugees worldwide are the most seen since World War II, "so it's a massive issue."

Ching said Doctors Without Borders is monitoring the condition of refugees in Central America as they flee outbreaks of violence in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and elsewhere. "People are already suffering so much along the way," she said. "The mental-health issues that we're seeing in that population are akin to what we see when we go to a war zone."

Doctors Without Borders will join other refugee agencies in passing out information at Saturday's event at Foster Beach. According to Ching, it will also return with an exhibition to be installed at Chicago's Daley Center Sept. 23-30.

While World Refugee Day events take place throughout the day Saturday at Foster Beach, things peak with a Human Family rally and march at noon.

Pawar, of course, is the founder and executive director of One Illinois.