People who might have faced death had they remained in their homelands will have an opportunity next month to celebrate new lives won by coming to these shores.

People who might have faced death had they remained in their homelands will have an opportunity next month to celebrate new lives won by coming to these shores.

Community Refugee and Immigration Services will sponsor a local World Refugee Day celebration from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 23 at Columbus International High School, 3940 Karl Road. It will feature food, performances and artwork from the various refugee communities that have settled in central Ohio, according to the organization's announcement.

On an international level, the United Nations has observed World Refugee Day on June 20 since 2001.

"We chose the 23rd because it's a Saturday," said Hannah Hartshorn, an AmeriCorps VISTA resource coordinator with Community Refugee and Immigration Services and one of the organizers of the local event.

Officials with CRIS, which was started in 1987 to help settle Laotian refugees coming to the Columbus area, have put on an awareness and advocacy program for the past several years to coincide with World Refugee Day, Hartshorn said. The low-key events involved some speakers and often the showing of a video.

Last year, however, officials with the nonprofit organization that assists refugees and immigrants decided to turn World Refugee Day into more of a celebration of a population that is "so vibrant in Columbus, and really all over the city, and has contributed in so many ways and is such a part of who we are as Columbus," Hartshorn said. An art show was held and performances put on by groups from several different refugee communities, and, of course, ethnic foods were served.

"It happened to be the rainiest day of the year so everyone was inside, but it was still, even though everyone was crammed in this small space, it was very celebratory," Hartshorn said.

This year, she said, CRIS employees decided to ramp up things even further with a full-blown festival.

According to the website of the United Nations, a refugee is "someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries."

None of that sounds especially like a cause for celebration, merely hinting at the terrors involved in being wrenched from one's native land.

But refugees, Hartshorn pointed out, by definition have not become victims of the persecution, war and violence back home.

They're alive, and that is cause for celebration, she said.

"We're celebrating the fact that we have now welcomed them here in Columbus," Hartshorn said. "Columbus is now sort of bigger and brighter because of this population."

In 2011, CRIS resettled refugees from Bhutan, Somalia, Myanmar, Iraq and Eritrea, along with other African countries, said Elizabeth Watkins of the organization. A few refugees from many other countries also have sought the agency's services, but those are the main groups being served at the moment, Hartshorn said.

"The World Refugee Day celebration honors the contributions of these new Americans to the global diversity of central Ohio," the announcement stated. "During the celebration, an art gallery will showcase the work of members of the Columbus refugee community. Locally prepared ethnic cuisine will be available beginning at noon, and performances demonstrating cultural music and dance traditions will begin at 1 (p.m.) CRIS recognizes the American Red Cross and Columbus International High School for their generous support of this event."

Most of the planning for the June 23 celebration is complete and the volunteers needed have been lined up, Hartshorn said.

"We're looking for some food donations," she said. "We've contacted some local restaurants but we're always looking for more."

Additional ethnic dancers and musical performers also are invited to come forward.

Hartshorn may be contacted via email at

CRIS, which has offices on Bexvie Avenue on the East Side, West Broad Street on the West Side and Sinclair Road in the Northland area, provides employment preparation, acculturation services, English as a Second Language classes, case management and legal services to clients.

For more information about the organization, visit the website: