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As Utah National Refugee Week Begins, Some Members Hesitate To Gather In-Person

An illustration of diverse people in protective masks.
Jenny On The Moon
Some refugees have mixed feelings about gathering in person as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Monday marks the first day of National Refugee Week. It’s dedicated to celebrating the contributions and presence of members in the refugee community.

Salt Lake County houses one of the largest refugee populations in Utah. But over the last year they, like so many others, haven't had a chance to gather — until now.

Asha Parekh, director of Utah Refugee Services, said they have faced many challenges since the beginning of the pandemic.

Most of those included connecting people to resources like healthcare, or unemployment benefits. That was coupled with the loss of community.

This week, which will feature events in-person and virtually, aims to teach the public about the different cultures that exist. And also to bring together refugees who haven’t gotten a chance to connect in a year.

Parekh said it’s an opportunity to welcome new members and celebrate after a difficult year.

“We're coming together in person, recognizing the newest Americans among us who have gone through this arduous journey and who are now celebrating these milestones in their lives,” she said.

Like the citizenship ceremony which will happen Tuesday at the state capitol and the Shine Your Light event on Friday.

Atem Aleu, a Sudan refugee and community team supervisor, said there are still mixed feelings for many who’ve lost loved ones due to the pandemic.

“It's a very exciting moment for many of the community members [to gather], but not for others,” Aleu said. “People have a fear of people who've already been through COVID.”

He said there’s been hesitation for people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Those populations also isolate themselves because they don't trust the [vaccines],” he said. “So it's taking a while for them to be more confident so that they can be vaccinated and join the groups outside.”

Aleu said last year was a challenge but it's time to show the resilience and strength of their community.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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