The 38-year-old who took the stage Saturday at Philadelphia’s World Refugee Day festival seemed to showcase what a successful resettlement might look like — a leader among his peers, invited to present performances from the organization he helped established and now leads: The Bhutanese American Organization-Philadelphia.
But even for Leela Kuikel, the transition to a new life in America was not easy. “If you have lived in a refugee camp for 20 years, starting a new life in a new country is never easy.” He explained.
Kuikel, who is of Nepali origin but was born in Bhutan, was a refugee when he moved to Philadelphia about 6 years ago. But because of his education, he has a Master’s degree in Economics from University of North Bengal, Kuikel was able to rise and shine and overcome the problems most refugees have difficulties with : getting a good job.
“There are about 3000 refugees from Bhutan currently living in Philly and most of them are poor and have limited English proficiency, “he added, “my job is to help them the best I can.”
On that beautiful afternoon, July 9, 2016, the festival was held at the City Hall courtyard. Hundreds of people attended the free events organized by The Philadelphia Regional Refugee Providers Collaborative (PRRPC), a coalition of refugee resettlement and post resettlement service providers. Festivities include food, dance and music performances, testimonials, arts installations, and crafts celebrating Philadelphia rich history of welcoming those seeking refuge.
“Today is about celebration, “said Hani White, The Deputy Director of City of Philadelphia Office of Immigrant Affairs (OIA),” we just want the refugees to feel at home here in Philly.” White, 40, who is of Indonesian origin, mentioned that the mission of OIA is to promote the well-being of immigrant communities in Philadelphia, including the refugees. As the refugee crisis escalated last fall, President Barack Obama said the U.S. would admit 85,000 refugees in 2016, about 15,000 more than last year.
Each year, more than 800 refugees find their new homes in Philadelphia. “The City of Brotherly Love” remains a welcoming city for refugees and immigrants under Mayor Kenney’s leadership. Philadelphia is one of 66 “Welcoming Cities,” in America participating in the Welcoming America and Welcoming Refugees Campaigns. These campaigns create inclusive communities across the nation which become more prosperous by making every member feel like they belong. Philadelphia is also one of 18 cities participating in United for Immigration Action, a coalition that supports the President’s refugee resettlement objectives.
“The city of Philadelphia has long been a place of refuge for those displaced by conflict and crisis,” says Juliane Ramic, Senior Director for Refugee and Community Integration at the
The World Refugee Day, is an international event designed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis, while honoring the strength, courage, and resilience of the growing number of people forced to flee their homes each year.
Indah Nuritasari/Photos: Rania Bakhri