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World Refugee Day PHX celebrates Diversity

June 21st

June 13. 2018

Article in Jewish News of Greater Phoenix

Jeff Kronenfeld | Staff Writer

In 2016, 65.6 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced, more than at anytime since World War II. That's roughly equivalent to the entire population of the United Kingdom.

This stunning number was reported last year by the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Refugees on the eve of World Refugee Day, a commemoration that was first held in 2001. Created by the U.N. to commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of refugees, the day also serves as an opportunity to reflect on the causes of forced migration and what can be done to help this vulnerable and growing population.

Locally, organizations such as the International Rescue Committee in Phoenix, Catholic Charities Community Services and the Safed House, just to name a few, are teaming up to host a series of free events as part of World Refugee Day Phoenix...

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with three refugees and a program supervisor for CCCS. One of the refugees who will be sharing his experience is Sami Assadi, a Palestinian who was displaced during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. His family first relocated to Syria.

"We didn't have jobs and we had to live in a refugee camp", Assadi said.

Things improved for his family when his father, an engineer, found work and moved them to Kuwait, where Assadi attended high school. Though without a passport, Assadi was able to obtain the necessary documents to travel to and study in Italy, which he did from 1963 to 1967. All the while, he dreamed of moving to the U.S., which he was finally able to do in 1970.

Assadi is the co-founder of Safed House, with his Jewish wife, Susan. It provides a welcoming place for refugees and recent immigrants, while also helping them share their stories.

The Assadis met at an informal weekly gathering of creative types in New York City in the 1980s. Both recalled an instant attraction.

Susan Assadi said she grew up as a "very Reform" Jew and her family emphasized the values of community service and open-mindedness. Despite the history of conflict between their peoples, their families have been supportive. They have noticed the reactions of others have shifted over time as the political climate has changed.

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