‘Let the world know who we are’ say refugees in Minnesota

Published 7:44 am Tuesday, July 18, 2017

By Danielle Wong


Morrison Johnny says Minnesota today feels like one big refugee camp. Johnny is Karen, an ethnic minority group originally from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and other countries in southeast Asia. Johnny fled Myanmar in 2004. This Sunday he’s among leaders from the Twin Cities refugee community who will tell their stories as part of celebrations for World Refugee Day.

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Hundreds of people are expected to attend the annual festival that celebrates the cultures of people now living in Minnesota.

“As a refugee, life is, you don’t have tomorrow,” said Johnny. “This is a moment, this is a time for me and my family and my people to let the world know who we are.”

The celebration comes at a time when refugees have faced new scrutiny. The U.S. has reached the Trump administration’s limit of 50,000 refugees for this budget year.

A Supreme Court order last month said the administration must admit refugees beyond the cap if they can prove a “bona fide relationship” with a person or entity in the United States. That was part of a broader ruling that allowed President Trump to partially administer his contested travel ban affecting six Muslim majority countries.

According to U.S. State Department data, the number of refugees entering each month has declined sharply since President Trump’s election. In October 2016, almost 10,000 refugees were admitted. By June, fewer than 3,000 were allowed to enter

The South Minneapolis non-profit group CAPI-USA works with immigrant and refugee communities. Executive Director Ekta Prakash said she hopes World Refugee Day inspires discussions about refugee issues.

As an immigrant from India, Prakash said she chose to live in the U.S. to have a better life. But said it’s very different for refugees.

“They come because they’re forced to leave their country,” said Prakash. “For whatever reason they’re coming, they’re coming here for a home – they have aspirations, they have dreams. And we, and our value, is to welcome them.”

Morrison Johnny is working to help welcome refugees to the place he now calls home.

“Because I saw all different people here from different countries. And I’m not a politician, but I want to make Minnesota great again, you know?”

Johnny will serve as an honorary chair for the Twin Cities World Refugee Day event. He plans to talk about rights and responsibilities of refugees.

“My most important thing is to be a part of the solution,” said Johnny. “We want to tell American people who we are, we are not just (coming) to sit down and eat the benefits. We want to be a part of this and we want to be taxpayers and we want to be a good citizen and hey, let’s work together.”

World Refugee celebrations will take place in Loring Park from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. featuring food, dancing and clothing from cultures around the world. Participants will include members of the Somali, Hmong and Karen communities.