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LONGING FOR HOME
FORCED TO FLEE THEIR COUNTRIES, REFUGEES FROM ALBANIA TO ANGOLA WHO CAME TO BUFFALO

Some people may doubt that Buffalo is an international city. They should have been at Vive La Casa on Wednesday morning.

People from as far away as Angola, Tanzania and Bangladesh gathered to celebrate World Refugee Day with lunch and music.

The Okpise family, from Nigeria, sang an African song, and an Albanian refugee played a violin concerto by Mozart.

Sponsored by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the event kicked off the Forgotten Refugees Campaign, a drive to raise awareness for refugees seeking asylum.

"We're using publicity and advertising among certain citizens to raise awareness," said Richard Reinhart, director of development and public relations of Vive, a nonprofit organization that provides refugees with food and shelter.

Reinhart said he hoped the event also would generate support for the Refugee Protection Act, a bill introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1999. "It seeks to amend some of the problems created in 1996 by immigration legislation," Reinhart said. "It's looking to change some of the aspects of detention."

Refugees at Vive said they enjoyed the day, but several said it was a bittersweet celebration because they missed their countries.

One 26-year-old woman left Bangladesh because her life was threatened after she joined an opposition political party. She refused to give her name because she said it would jeopardize her safety.

"This place is really very helpful and safe and secure," she said of Vive. "The office people are really so nice to me. When I stayed here (the first night), I felt it was a good place."

Still, she said she wishes she could return home. "I had to leave my country, but still I love my country," she said.

A 37-year-old journalist from Tanzania, who also would not give his name, left his home after the government disagreed with his writing. Feeling unsafe, he said, he first went to Canada before coming to the United States about two weeks ago.

He said he would return to Tanzania if he could.

"It's very sorry to be in a country where I don't belong," he said. "I can assimilate in any society myself, but I need to contribute to my country."

Though he appreciates what Vive does, he said, he still wants to be home.

"This is a forced departure," he said. "Home is the best place to live.

"Is it fair to celebrate to be out of home?"

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