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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clog Dances and Blankets for Refugees

For MTA dancer from the Clog America troupe listening to a young girl after the performance at the Palace of Children's Arts.
The audience in the Moscow Palace of Children's Arts was filled with families of refugees from the parts of the world that are constantly in the news: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran. The children had begun to grow restless when the Salt Lake City-based Clog America dance troupe appeared -- the men in cowboy hats and carrying banjos, and the women in Old West-style sundresses.

As the show moved from square-dance numbers to Justin Timberlake covers, the audience clapped in tune.

"It's all so happy and beautiful," said Nyusha, 12, from Iran. "I rarely see anything like this."

After the concert, which took place last Tuesday, the performers brought out more than 250 blankets and 50 pairs of shoes donated by well-wishers in Utah. Sponsored by Opora, an organization that helps refugees from non-CIS countries find housing and jobs in Russia, the show was organized to benefit some of the 2,000 refugees that receive counseling from Opora in its centers in Moscow and the Moscow region. "The people here today are the neediest people that Opora helps. They need these blankets to stay warm at night," said Opora director Gezahgn Wordofa.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees counted over 8,000 official asylum seekers in Moscow in January 2005. For many other refugees who have no official documentation, it is near-impossible to rent an apartment or find work.

After the blankets and footwear had been distributed and the dancers had left on their coach bus, many of the adult refugees told of their concerns.

"The United Nations has many problems," said Manh Bangoura, a mother of four who had come to Russia from Equitorial Guinea four years ago. She showed a letter of rejection from the U.S. Embassy, to which she had been applying for asylum. "The UN won't let me emigrate to the United States because I have been in Russia for so long," she said. "Here, I don't have documentation so I can't get work, and the police always stop me and ask for money. They let me go when they see I don't have any."

A group of Afghan women voiced similar concerns. "We have lived here for seven years, and we are still not comfortable in Russia," Frida Nasir said. "We can't find work here. We have no documents. All we want is to learn English and move to England or America."

"Do you know where they have English classes?" she and her relatives asked a reporter.

Yet Wordofa presses on. He says that the police are growing more sensitive to the plight of refugees, noting that after an Opora volunteer, a lawyer from Afghanistan, was beaten to death six months ago in the Moscow region, the police quickly found his killers and they were sentenced to prison terms.

"Churches in Moscow will give the poorest people food. The migration service wants these people to be legal, and so do we," Wordofa said, noting that he was trying to get the government to recognize Opora's in-house registration as official so that all refugees who seek help from Opora will be able to find work.

"Our hope is to do something so that the lives of these people change for the better."

For information about Opora, call Gezahgn Wordofa at: 8-916-633-5882.