REFUGEES SPEAK IN ADVANCE OF WORLD REFUGEE DAY-Andrew Stelzer

06/14/06

At the end of 2004, the Un estimated that there were almost 10 million refugees on the planet—people who had to flee their home countries because of war, famine, natural disaster, or political or religious persecution. In the US, The President determines how many refugees are let into the country every year. In 2004, 70,000 was the allotment, but only around 52,000 were admitted. June 20th is world refugee day. To commemorate the day a week ahead of time here in Tampa, local officials, refugees, and religious organizations who held resettle refugees when they arrive in the area, gathered at the Lutheran Church of Our Savior on West Hillsborough avenue, to tell their stories. Stacy Blake works at the Florida center or survivors of torture, a project of Jewish family services.

ACT- “Around the world, refugees are gathering in dusty camps in Kenya, mountainous regions, hiding in basements and homes, recognizing the importance of this day, hoping that we haven’t lost sight of their needs..�

More than a dozen countries around the world accept a pre-determined number of refugees into their countries. Refugees from Liberia, Colombia, Sudan, Kosovo spoke about their experience, and expressed gratitude to local social service agencies for providing them with aid upon their arrival in the Tampa Bay Area. Dr. Braget Sunhase worked as a doctor at the university of Pristina in Kosovo. In 1981, he spent a year practicing in the US. 17 years later, he was back.

ACT “In 1998, I visited friends in San Francisco, and because the situation was worsening I got asylum..soon after, I visited my cousin in Florida…I never gave u hope, the day after president Clinton, I went to catholic charities and applied for family reunification…my wife 3 daughters and son joined me, and my 3 daughters got scholarships and graduated in NC, and Kansas City..�

Sunhase’s story had a happy ending, and he was not a victim of violence to Kosovo. The same cant be said for many refugees like Bobby Iz-Weah who came to the United States from Liberia

ACT “When the liberty of my country fell, I saw the rebels cut off his right hands and make hi eat his ear. When the liberty of my country fell, I saw his wife was pregnant and the rebels saw her trying to run, and said we will deliver the baby and I saw a rebel take a knife and plotting stomach of my brothers wife..�

The State department works with religious organizations around the country to help refugees adapt to their new hometowns. Sandy Windsor is a volunteer at Messiah Lutheran Church and has helped a new family of Liberian refugees get settled in the area.

ACT “We called upon our congregation for furniture to fill food pantry with the basics, the generosity transformed an empty apartment ….5 minutes, transforming church, appointments etc. They are thriving�

Lotus Masseas works with Lutheran services refugee resettlement programs.

ACT “The biggest challenge is housing..second is employment..they don’t know language no skills..all the immigration documents, no transportation, we rely on public but sometimes its hard..�

Lutheran services works with people like, Alex Plotkin who owns Philly Swirl ice cream, and makes a special effort to hire refugees looking for their first job.

ACT “Being an immigrant myself and coming in 1980, we employ about 1200 people and started working with Lutheran services a year ..with unemployment low we need em now..�

Captain Ron Reder, with the Hillsborough county sheriffs office, said it’s a challenge for law enforcement to understand foreigners’ behavior.

ACT-Reder “We want to be involved in the communities to understand what law enforcement is..law enforcement in those countries is not the same as it is here..its our job to learn the countries..theres a lot of training so our goal is to become more wise and better educated about the cultures…and we want them to understand the laws of this country..one they are here�

The Sherrifs department runs a victims program and has a center at the 6800 block of Dale Mabry where refugees can get services that can help them adapt.

ACT-Reder “They don’t trust American banks…others realize..trust the banks..it reduces our robberies..�

Many native born Americans may not know that the people in their communities are refugees from war or famine torn nations. Tony Morejon, Hillsborough County’s Hispanic affairs liaison was born in the US himself, but was called a Cuban refugee by other kids on the playground. Many of his family members did flee to the US from Cuba. He noted that Jose Marti was a refugee who fled the Spanish rulers of Cuba.

ACT “Marie Jana Cobalon..keep that name in the back of your mind…Mikael Barishnokov..Gloria Estefan..Former CEO of Coke…Alfred Kissinger..Albert Einstein..refugees make us better..we learn from people that come..youre ruining our country..but the official language is liberty get someone off the plane he s just as wanting to be as free. That’s what makes us united..liberty its freedom..Marie Jana Cobelona..you might recognize her as Madeline Albright�

World refugee day was established in the year 2000, before that, it was known as African refugee day, as many of the worlds refugees come from that continent. In 2004, there were almost 3 million refugees in Africa. Makhtar Maki Mogtaba left the Darfur region of Sudan 5 years ago, and came to the US after staying at a refugee camp in Cairo for 2 years. His family fled to Ethiopia, then to Egypt, and his father and several brothers have been able to make it to the US. His mother and several other siblings are still waiting to be accepted. He says that Americans need to learn more about the plight of refugees around the world, and his native Sudan is an example of a genocide that barely registers in the consciousness of most Americans.

ACT- “They should know more. I was reading the paper…they know about the trial of Michael Jackson, and when they asked them about Darfur it was 2%…there should be more about Sudan..there are 3 million, and 180,00 have been killed..it should be more attention and concern because peace is cheaper than war…�

In honor of World refugee day, WMNF is presenting the critically acclaimed documentary “the Refugee All Starts� about a group of six Sierra Leonean musicians who form a band while living as refugees in the Republic of Guinea. That’s tonight, at 7:30 pm at Sunrise Cinema at Old Hyde Park in south Tampa, 1609 W Swann Avenue.

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