Upholding the tradition of honoring and resettling refugees, more than 2,000 Elm City residents raced shoulder to shoulder Sunday morning in the10th annual Run for Refugees event, a fundraiser for the local nonprofit Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services. Following the race, those who did not get a spot in the race joined together with some of the runners for a march in support of refugees.
Amidst national debate surrounding President Donald Trump’s executive order, which bans citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States and halts the country’s refugee program, the race and subsequent march saw a large affirmation of support: After the travel ban was signed on Jan. 27, more than 600 people signed up within the following 48 hours to participate in the fundraising run, according to Ann O’Brien, acting director of communication at IRIS.
By the time the run began, IRIS had received record-breaking popularity and financial assistance, with more than 2,500 runners signing up and more than $100,000 in donation, said IRIS’ employment and education services director Will Kneerim. He added that this fundraiser would greatly supplement IRIS’ budget, which stands to face significant slashes under Trump’s administration. After Judge James Robart of the Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled last Friday to temporarily halt Trump’s executive order nationwide, allowing those with valid visas to step foot on U.S. soil, Kneerim said IRIS still does not know what the future holds. He added, however, that the organization hopes to receive as many refugees as it can, because “it is the right thing to do.”
“[Servicing the refugees] has made the state richer and stronger. Our refugees come here like all first-generation immigrants, and they are hungry for jobs,” Kneerim said. “40 percent of small entrepreneurial businesses are started by first-generation immigrants. So they are bringing real value, not just diversity, to our community.”
Among thousands of racers and walkers, Raphael Sarfati GRD ’17 was first to cross the finish line, completing the 5K in 17 minutes, 5 seconds, one of the best performances he has ever produced, Sarfati said. Native to France and personally unharmed by Trump’s travel ban, Sarfati said many of his friends were adversely affected and that events like the refugee run are critical in demonstrating solidarity and support.
To accommodate the overwhelming support from community members, volunteers from IRIS organized the March for Refugees, an addendum that sprung up over the past week in order to include those who were unable to register for the morning run. More than 3,500 demonstrators took to the streets and marched from Wilbur Cross High School, where the race concluded, to the New Haven Green one hour after the charity run ended.
Waving signs that read “no ban, no wall” and “I stand with refugees,” rally attendees were received by a panel of speakers at the Green, which included resettled refugees from Syria, Sudan and Iraq as well as elected officials such as U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 D-Conn., Rep. Rosa DeLauro D-New Haven and state Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield D-East Hartford.
Through help from Arabic-speaking volunteer translators, three refugee families shared their resettlement experiences, hopes and fears with the demonstrators at the rally. Peace, security and optimism were constant themes ringing in the refugees’ speeches, alongside a fear of uncertainty and for relatives who still live in life-threatening conditions back in their native countries.
Azhar, a Sudanese mother who moved to New Haven 18 months ago, spoke about her tumultuous journey during which she sought refuge in Egypt, and eventually relocated to America. She emphasized to the audience that refugees like her family were forced to leave their homeland in search of stability.
“Who would choose to become a refugee? Who would choose to lose everything and have to seek refuge in another country?” Azhar said. “Now I must wake up from my dream and look for security once again.”
Azhar’s last name is withheld for privacy concerns, according to Heba Gowayed, one of the march’s organizers.
Elected officials from all levels of government — local, state and federal alike — were present at the demonstration to vow their support for refugee rights, and many of them also shared their families’ immigration stories.
Blumenthal and DeLauro recounted how their fathers settled in America in the early 1900s in hopes of realizing their American dreams. DeLauro, a New Haven native, reminded the crowd that refugee families simply wish to afford their children access to education and the chance to achieve their full potential.
“We are not only a beacon of hope and opportunity. We are great because of the talent, the intellect and the dedication to democracy that immigrants brought to this country,” Blumenthal added.
Both Blumenthal and DeLauro insisted on the unconstitutionality of the travel ban, calling it a violation of the essence of America, a country that “stands for equal justice and equal freedom,” Blumenthal said. They urged the demonstrators to keep resisting, especially while the ban is still under judicial review.
Yale Law School students who represented refugees in court after the travel ban also joined the speakers in encouraging sustained resistance and protests. Adam Bradlow LAW ’18, one of the YLS students who filed an emergency petition to defend an Iraqi man who was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Jan. 28, said the organized airport sit-ins that took place shortly after Trump announced the ban contributed to the timely release of detained refugees.
“What binds us here today is [that] we are thinking about a tomorrow that we want, and the question that is put before us is whether we want to live together or live apart,” Bradlow said to the crowd.
Organizations like the Yale Refugee Project and the Yale Muslim Students Association, as well as Yale-affiliated individuals such as Trinh Truong ’19, were also among the panel of approximately 10 speakers.