June 24-July 7, o4
Far from Home
By Kristen Fox / SUN Staff Writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Bike Ride Raises Awareness of Refugees in Central New York
A bicycle ride to celebrate the presence of refugees in Central New York took place from June 17-20. The Second Annual Refugee Bike Tour began at St. Daniel Church in Syracuse and finished at St. Leo Church in Tully, with stops at parishes in Marietta, Cortland, Binghamton and Norwich. The 150-mile ride was held in conjunction with World Refugee Day on June 20. The purpose of World Refugee Day is to draw attention to the plight of refugees, celebrate their courage and resilience, and renew commitment to solving refugee problems. It is also an opportunity to recognize the contributions which refugees make to the cities that host them.
The ride across Central New York gave refugees from Bosnia, Iran, Sudan, Togo, Somalia and Afghanistan, who have all settled in Central New York, an opportunity to meet with people from 10 Catholic parishes and to encourage churches to sponsor refugees. “We want to tell people thank you for helping the refugees,” said Daniel Amet, a refugee from Kenya who settled in Syracuse in 2001. “We need to bring more attention to the refugees.” Amet, one of about a dozen cyclists participating in the ride, said that building a new life in America has not been easy. Only with help from Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Services was he able to find an apartment and establish a new life. “I have had a hard life,” said Amet. “Here my life is very different. Catholic Charities has done so much for me and the other refugees.” Staff members from Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Services biked with the refugees. Before beginning their ride, some refugees shared their experiences with sixth graders from St. Daniel School. Amet told the children about coming to America from Kenya. He described the civil war that has erupted in his native country and has lasted for the past 21 years. “The war has caused much violence and destruction. Everybody tries to make the best life that they can here,” said Amet, who shared with the children his fondest memory of his new home in Central New York. “I have never seen snow until I came here,” he said. “In Kenya it is very hot and humid, not like this weather.”
Msgr. Eugene Yennock, pastor of St. Daniel Church, blessed the bikes and riders before their departure. He explained that St. Daniel Parish has a special relationship with the refugee community. Since 2003, parishioners have helped resettle two sisters from Liberia. The parish’s support has provided the women with items such as furniture and clothing. Parishioners have extended their generosity to include rides to medical appointments, church and school. Some are even tutoring the young women’s sons, Msgr. Yennock noted. “We are very pleased to be able to help the refugees,” Msgr. Yennock said, “but we also wanted parishioners to have an opportunity to help people.” “Their [the refugee’s] stories are amazing,” he added. “They are wonderful people.” St. Daniel Church is one of approximately 20 parishes in Syracuse and its surrounding suburbs that are currently helping resettle refugees, according to Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Services.
From October 2003 to June 2004, Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Services has helped to resettle 112 refugees to Central New York, with 109 more expected to arrive between June 2004 and September 2004. While the service makes sure the refugees have a place to stay and basic necessities, more time and resources are needed to help refugees with non-essentials. This is where parishes come in. Their spiritual and emotional support helps ease the refugees’ integration into the community.
This is why Dzenan Selmovic, a refugee from Bosnia who last year became a U.S. citizen, wanted to bike –– to tell people “thank you.” “I want to thank everyone for helping us,” he said. “Central New York is a great place.”