Have a meal, help a refugee in North Texas

D-FW event to help those who have suf­fered hu­man rights abuses, says Wylie Pere­marti

The Dallas Morning News - - Viewpoints - Wylie Pere­marti, a grad­u­ate of J.J. Pearce High School in Richard­son, is a ju­nior at Oc­ci­den­tal Col­lege in Los An­ge­les. He wrote this col­umn for The Dal­las Morn­ing News. Email: wpere­mar-

Sun­day marks the 69th an­nual In­ter­na­tional Hu­man Rights Day, com­mem­o­rat­ing the adop­tion of the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights by the U.N. Gen­eral Assem­bly in 1948. The his­toric doc­u­ment, which ar­tic­u­lated the un­alien­able rights of all re­gard­less of race, gen­der, re­li­gion or creed, re­mains the foun­da­tional in­ter­na­tional treaty in the field of hu­man rights.

As a col­lege stu­dent ma­jor­ing in diplomacy and world af­fairs, I ex­pe­ri­enced why help­ing those who have suf­fered hu­man rights abuses is so im­por­tant. Dur­ing an in­tern­ship with Refugee Ser­vices of Texas, I as­sisted refugees to Dal­las, men and women who had es­caped abuse and in­jus­tice in var­i­ous places.

I met a Con­golese man whose story changed my life. Since 1996, a com­plex web of proxy wars among the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, Rwanda, and var­i­ous mili­tia groups has plagued the re­source-rich re­gion. Ac­cord­ing to the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions, wide­spread vi­o­lence, eth­nic cleans­ing, dis­ease and famine from the Sec­ond Congo War (1998-2003) have claimed 5 mil­lion peo­ple, and the re­gion re­mains em­broiled in con­flict.

As a so­cial ac­tivist, this Con­golese refugee de­nounced the re­pres­sive Ka­bila regime that cre­ated the DRC in 1997. In 2000, he was forced to leave his fam­ily and flee to Kenya af­ter he was im­pris­oned and tor­tured by the Con­golese Rally for Democ­racy (RCD), a ri­val fac­tion sup­ported by the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment that con­trolled ter­ri­tory in east­ern Congo at the time.

Hav­ing wit­nessed mass atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted by the RCD, this man hid in Nairobi. RCD agents cap­tured him in 2011 and tor­tured him again. He nar­rowly es­caped death.

He set­tled in Dal­las in 2016, 14 years af­ter gain­ing U.N. refugee sta­tus. Now in his 40s, he suf­fers from in­juries from his tor­ture and strug­gles to pay for med­i­cal treat­ments.

There are so many im­mi­grants and refugees like this man who are part of our com­mu­nity. Many face le­gal, fi­nan­cial, cul­tural and lin­gual bar­ri­ers that make as­sim­i­lat­ing ex­tremely dif­fi­cult.

That’s why, when I heard that Hu­man Rights Ini­tia­tive of North Texas was creating the first-ever Hu­man Rights Day DFW, I wanted to be part of it.

The event, a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort be­tween restau­rants and res­i­dents, sup­ports im­mi­grant sur­vivors of hu­man rights abuse in North Texas by rais­ing funds and aware­ness.

“The im­mi­grants in our com­mu­nity are feel­ing par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble at this mo­ment,” says Bill Hol­ston, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of HRI. “It’s par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant that we sup­port le­gal ser­vice agen­cies like HRI that are help­ing them pur­sue their le­gal rights to gain se­cu­rity and sta­tus.”

This is a frag­ile mo­ment for im­mi­grants, who have en­dured a nearly year­long ag­gres­sion from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to close U.S. bor­ders and re­strict im­mi­gra­tion. Last week, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump ended U.S. participation in the U.n.-led Global Com­pact on Mi­gra­tion, a set of in­ter­na­tional guide­lines de­vel­oped to pro­tect the hu­man rights of mi­grants.

Like all of our neigh­bors, im­mi­grants in North Texas de­serve our re­spect. Many, like my Con­golese friend, suf­fered hu­man rights abuses, and fled their home­lands with lit­tle or noth­ing to help them start their new lives.

This Sun­day, all you have to do to sup­port im­mi­grant sur­vivors of hu­man rights abuse is go out to brunch or din­ner at one of the par­tic­i­pat­ing restau­rants. (Find them at hu­man­rights­daydfw.org/restau­rants.) The restau­rants will do­nate 5 per­cent of that day’s rev­enue (or $250) to HRI.

What a de­li­cious way to make a mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence.

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