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Refugee Rally Seeks To Bridge Divides

Josh James
Refugees and advocates unfurl a banner on the Kentucky Capitol steps following a rally in the Rotunda

The Kentucky Capitol took on an international air Wednesday as refugees and their advocates gathered in the Rotunda. With tensions over immigration on the rise, the annual celebration and meet-and-greet with lawmakers has grown into a political statement.

"...everyone [who] helped me to be here in Kentucky, thank you," a smiling young man says as applause echoes from the well of the statehouse.

Expressing his gratitude to the state he now calls home is Mohamad Al Shamdin, a Syrian refugee who underwent a two-year resettlement process before landing in Lexington in 2015. He later takes a moment to chat with WUKY before heading off to a job interview.

"Here you have a chance to continue your education. You have a chance to be a normal citizen," he explains.

Credit Josh James / WUKY
(from the left) Yalda Jamshed, Rahaf Almadhi, and Iqbal Al Gabri rally outside the Kentucky Capitol

It's stories like Al Shamdin's that Maria Koerner, an assistant director with Catholic Charities' Kentucky Office of Refugees, wants to highlight in the midst of a heated campaign season. While the Refugee Day event is marking its third year, this is the first time it's been accompanied by a press conference.

"And it was in a way a response to all the anti-refugee and immigrant rhetoric that we're hearing during this presidential election time, to just show some positive coverage about refugees and to show that refugees are welcome in Kentucky," she says.

Koerner says her group has been in contact with Gov. Matt Bevin, who indicated before taking office last year that he opposed the settlement of Syrian refugees in Kentucky until the state could better determine the "full extent of any risks to citizens." Bevin joined more than half of the nation's governors in urging increased caution but has not weighed in on the issue since.

In February, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction blocking Indiana from interfering with the relocation of Syrian refugees, pointing to what it called "national origin discrimination."

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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