Refugees and famous chef cook together during World Refugee Day celebrations in Latvia

2015. June 19th, Salvador Merlos, Riga

The event brought together more than 70 people, including refugees, asylum-seekers, journalists and NGO staff, who met to remember and pay tribute to the 59.5 million people around the world forced to flee their homes due to war or human rights abuses.

Karlis Celms, a famous Latvian-American chef, cooked together with many enthusiastic refugees and asylum-seekers, who praised the opportunity to unite around activities that connect all of us. Karlis Celms explained that his father’s family left Latvia in 1943 and spent six years in a camp for displaced people in Germany, until they were able to move to the United States. “What has been done here is fantastic. I wish I could have this support every day, because we have just gone through 50 kilos of vegetables in 20 minutes” said Mr Celms. And the Latvian soup was not the only dish cooked in Mucenieki. A group of Vietnamese asylum-seekers prepared spring rolls that received the highest comments by the participants. Among the many other activities arranged for WRD, Afghan women braided fabric into ribbons, a Latvian men’s choir sang traditional songs and children had the opportunity to play together guided by volunteers from Drošā māja.

Karolina Lindholm Billing, Deputy Regional Representative UNHCR RRNE, warmly addressed the refugees and asylum-seekers and thanked them for their participation and enthusiasm: “This is another good example of your wish to take every opportunity to integrate into and make a positive contribution to the communities and countries that have provided you with safety. Because you all had busy lives, jobs, families and futures before you were forced to flee. Refugees are ordinary people living through extraordinary times.” Ms Lindholm Billing also expressed her gratitude to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (OCMA) for allowing UNHCR to host this year’s World Refugee Day event in Mucenieki, the management of Mucenieki for its great support in organizing, and Drošā māja for the co-organization of the event.

Sandra Zalcmane, Head of Drošā māja, highlighted the importance of the event as it also marked the finalization of a refugee integration project implemented by this organization.  Ms Zalcmane shared her happiness “for seeing each case of a refugee succeeding even just a little bit, it be by learning more Latvian or by finding a job”.

World Refugee Day is held every year on 20 June. This year, the UNHCR Regional Representation for Northern Europe is celebrating World Refugee Day with events in Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark.