World Refugee Day gains attention following Pence’s legal battle

By Shelby Mullis
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — In light of an international refugee crisis, a group of Hoosiers are taking steps to share the refugee experience.

Debasree Dasgupta said it’s time for Americans to open their eyes on this year’s World Refugee Day.

Debasree Dasgupta and Jyotika Saksena discuss Monday’s turnout at the World Refugee Day event. Both women are members of the University of Indianapolis faculty. By Shelby Mullis, TheStatehouseFile.com

Debasree Dasgupta and Jyotika Saksena discuss Monday’s turnout at the World Refugee Day event. Both women are members of the University of Indianapolis faculty. By Shelby Mullis, TheStatehouseFile.com

“It’s about creating awareness,” said Dasgupta, a University of Indianapolis Health Sciences professor. “It’s all the much more important that everybody does something in their own way to create awareness about the issue, about what is going on because even if it’s refugees, it’s still a human thing. We can turn a blind eye, but in today’s day and age, nothing is really local.”

That’s why Dasgupta joined Hoosiers from across the state to celebrate World Refugee Day at the Indianapolis City Market Monday.

“It’s really important to have this type of exhibition, especially given that now Indiana is at a [crossroads],” she said.

Dasgupta is referring to Gov. Mike Pence’s 2015 decision to block aid to Syrian refugees who are being resettled in Indiana. Pence made the announcement following the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, citing security concerns. A judge ruled against his decision to block aid, but the Pence administration is appealing the ruling.

As the war in Syria continues, Syrian refugees are still expected to be resettled in Indiana this year despite the legal battle.

“We’re at a crisis point in world history here with about 60 to 65 million refugees or displaced people,” said Cole Varga, executive director of Exodus Refugee. “So it’s all that more important of a day for us to shout the story of refugees so everyone in the community knows what’s going on globally and what’s going on here with the refugees in our community.”

Using the City Market as a gathering place, Varga called it a “great venue” to celebrate the internationally-recognized day.

Exhibits representing Syria, Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo lined the second floor of the building while music consumed the atmosphere and the flags of several nations draped over the balcony.

A woman reads the captions accompanying the several images featured in Jyotika Saksena and Shannon McNorrow’s exhibit. The exhibit displays photos from 21 Congolese women who captured images of things that challenge or enhance their life in America. By Shelby Mullis, TheStatehouseFile.com

A woman reads the captions accompanying the several images featured in Jyotika Saksena and Shannon McNorrow’s exhibit. The exhibit displays photos from 21 Congolese women who captured images of things that challenge or enhance their life in America. By Shelby Mullis, TheStatehouseFile.com

Jyotika Saksena, an Exodus Refugee board member, and Shannon McMorrow, a University of Indianapolis public health professor, created a photo exhibit to display at Monday’s event, which shows the life of a Congolese refugee through a series of photos.

“Basically, you give people cameras and ask them to take pictures of things centered around questions related to their life,” McMorrow said. “We recruited 21 Congolese women in Indianapolis and got them together for meetings and worked together and gave them cameras and asked them to take pictures of things that were either challenges or enhancing their life here.”

In an effort to dispel the negative connotation of the word ‘refugee,’ Saksena called their exhibit a way of giving refugees a voice.

Varga agreed, calling June 20 a day of international advocacy and outreach for the refugee community.

“As a welcoming city, Indianapolis should open its arms to people that are fleeing because this is how the country started,” Varga said. “It’s how the U.S. started. We should do our part to welcome those in their time of most need.”

Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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