HOUSTON - Texas has become a favored place for refugee resettlement in the United States, especially Houston. Ten percent of the refugees in the U.S. live in the Lone Star State.
At a recent World Refugee Day celebration, people who left everything behind to find a new home in Houston enjoyed music, dancing, food and play.
Saniha Lakhpaty, who works with the Catholic Charities refugee program, organized this year's event, held at the University of Saint Thomas.
“They left behind a lot, and now they are here, settling into a new home," Lakhpaty said. "Houston has more refugees than any other city — many Houstonians actually do not know that. This is an opportunity for us to come together once a year and celebrate them.”
Most refugees avoid talking about what compelled them to leave their countries. “Refugees do not want to tell their story," Lakhpaty said. "They don’t want to relive it. It is already difficult for them to resettle because many of them don’t speak English. So, you have engineers and doctors working labor jobs just to get started and make life for their family.”
One thing that helps is the increasing diversity of Houston’s population. Zain Alattar, who works with the YMCA’s refugee program, speaks Arabic and several other languages.
“I was raised in a pretty multicultural, multilingual environment, so now I help out with the refugees and I enjoy supporting the cause,” Alattar said.
Refugees from various countries find common ground playing football, called soccer in the United States. So World Refugee Day planners brought teams from various nationalities together in a park for a set of games.
One team, the Texas Tigers, was made up of Sudanese refugees. Another squad, made up mostly of players from Cuba, Algeria and Iraq, included women like Romi from Honduras, who works with Interfaith Ministries.
“I just want to have fun and see some of the people from other agencies," she said, "because we don’t talk that much with them and I would like to meet them.”
The celebration provided this chance for refugees to come together to support each other and embrace their new beginnings in a new homeland.