Portland celebrates World Refugee Day with walk around the city

Tuesday marked World Refugee Day, and every year 10′s of thousands of refugees seek safety and shelter in the United States.
Published: Jun. 20, 2023 at 10:43 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Tuesday marked World Refugee Day, and every year 10′s of thousands of refugees seek safety and shelter in the United States.

Thirty-five years ago, Portland became one of the cities formally welcoming them, and Tuesday night, refugees got together for a walk around the city.

The walk began at the Salmon Springs Fountain and went around the Willamette Riveer. To kick off the walk, a group performed Taiko, which is the Japanese word for drum.

“We’re here to make a lot of loud noise and energize them before they go on the walk,” said Megumi Uehara, a Taiko player.

Organizers called the event a celebration on foot among a community of people dealt a difficult hand. Some of those dealt that hand are people like Tetiana Kolodii, who fled from a war happening in her home country, Ukraine.

“I came here 11 months ago because of the war in my country,” Kolodii said. “It wasn’t safe for me to stay there.”

She recalled her city was constantly being bombed and she was forced to leave. Now, she’s helping other Ukrainians who are seeking refuge in Portland.

“It’s probably the most healing thing to help other people,” she explained, “because I know exactly what they experience.”

Kolodii said while it’s good to be safe overseas she still faces hardship, especially knowing many of her friends and family back home aren’t safe.

“On the emotional and mental level,” she described, “it’s difficult.”

The walk, however, is meant to bring people facing similar devastation together to find some sort of commonplace, “and like a smile is international,” Uehara said, “you don’t need to know the language.”

“It’s a wonderful place for us to embrace their presence,” Peter Vogelaar, with Lutheran Community Services Northwest, added. “Lift their spirits and welcome them to our communities.”

Natasha Haunsperger, a Portland police officer and refugee, also attended the event. She helped PPB facilitate the partnership they’ve had with the walk for the last three years. She said the goal is to better understand those they serve.

“This is one small, miniscule way to start the process of acculturation and integration in a very welcoming sense and environment,” Haunsperger said.

Haunsperger lost her home in Yugoslavia more than 20 years ago, and following a war, it’s a home that no longer exists. The refugees she’s proud to serve have a soft spot in her heart . She wishes there were opportunities like the walk back when she lost her home.

“I feel like this is an opportunity to pay it forward,” explained Haunsperger, “and pay it back to a community and a city that welcomed me and gave me opportunities for new reformed life.”

Several city officials also attended the walk, like Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell and District Attorney Mike Schmidt.