Twenty-three-year-old Mukesha Eduige is one of the thousands of refugees who has settled in the commonwealth in recent years.
Born in Rwanda, her parents fled to South Africa in the late 1990s. But South Africa was not equipped to handle refugees at the time, she says. And the country had its own issues — it was transitioning from apartheid.
A swell of xenophobic attacks in the country in 2008 led her family to apply for refugee settlement. After six years, they were resettled in Louisville in 2014.
Eduige (pictured above) joined more than 100 people in the basement of St. Francis of Assisi church on Bardstown Road on Monday night. Their goal: to write cards and letters to state legislators to keep Kentucky a state that welcomes refugees.
Cities such as Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green and Owensboro have settled refugees. With President Trump taking office, many in Kentucky fear that he’ll make good on his campaign promise to limit immigration from certain regions of the world and focus on Muslims.
But Eduige doesn’t see Trump’s election as all doom and gloom.
“Let me first start by saying it’s important to have a president that is vocalizing his thoughts,” she says. “It starts people talking about refugees and asking what is a refugee. So this is an opportunity.”
The letters Eduige and others are writing will be presented, along with a petition to state legislators, on February 16 — Refugee and Immigrant Day.
“Our nation has been resettling refugees for decades,” says Maria Koerner, assistant director of the Kentucky Office for Refugees at Catholic Charities. “It’s always been a program that has bipartisan support. But with the rhetoric in the campaign, there are questions about whether the U.S. will continue to welcome refugees at the same rate that they have been.”
Refugee and Immigrant Day has happened for the past four years to raise awareness to lawmakers about the benefits of immigration. Along with writing letters, the international community — and its supporters in Kentucky — are trying a new tactic this year on their trip to Frankfort.
“We’ll be working on getting employers to sign on to the letter to state that refugees and immigrants benefit their business,” Koerner says. “We’re trying to collect some information on how many immigrant-owned businesses have started in Kentucky.”