GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Nearly 20 years ago, the United Nations marked June 20 as “World Refugee Day” — an annual dedication to raise awareness and support for refugees.
On Saturday, organizations in West Michigan celebrated the occasion through soccer.
Bethany Christian Services hosted the sixth annual “Refugee World Cup” at the Gainey Athletic Complex in Grand Rapids.
Many of the players taking part in the tournament are refugees — people who’ve fled danger and violence in their home countries.
They’re the faces of a problem that’s now become a global crisis.
“We used to say ‘we’ve never seen so many refugees since World War II. (Now) we’ve surpassed that number greatly,” said Chris Paluksy, president of Bethany Christian Services.
Bethany Christian Services works to help refugees resettle and find safe homes in West Michigan.
Saturday’s soccer tournament was to not only raise money and awareness for the organization but also a chance to celebrate refugees and diversity.
It was also an opportunity to bring resources to refugees — from legal services to job opportunities, like at Michigan Turkey. The business started working with Bethany eight years ago to provide jobs for refugees.
“They feel safe at Michigan Turkey and that’s such a great feeling for us as an employer,” said MaryAnn McCaffrey of Michigan Turkey.
For many of the refugees, the tournament is a chance to have fun and celebrate a second chance at life.
“I’m really grateful. I don’t know how to describe it,” said Prince Shema, who fled the Congo five years ago. “I’m so happy. I love being here.”