World Refugee Day

06/21/07 Seán Kinane
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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has designated yesterday, June 20th, as World Refugee Day. The Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in South Tampa hosted a program called “25 Years of Refugee Treasures” featuring food, speakers, and entertainment by refugees who have resettled in the Tampa Bay area. WMNF’s Seán Kinane reports.

Joy Margolis is the Director of Communications and Public Policy for Lutheran Services Florida, a nonprofit that has a Refugee Resettlement Program. She illustrated the scale of the world’s refugee problem.

“There are, basically 16 million refugees in camps waiting to be resettled throughout the world. And they’re from many, many different countries. … Eighty percent of those are women and children …”

Margolis said that immigrants have difficulties in coming to a new country, but that refugees have even more issues to deal with. Here she described what refugees are and how they can attempt to achieve protected status.

“If a person believes that they are being persecuted – usually due to religious belief or political beliefs, then they fear that they are in danger of losing their lives or being tortured or thrown in jail, what they need to do is declare that status.”

Lutheran Services has provided help to over a quarter of a million refugees in their 25 years, according to Margolis.

“We’ve been providing care to refugees for the past 25 years since 1982. And we have a very close estimate that we’ve helped probably close to 300,000 refugees – children, their families, from so many different countries. Many from Cuba and the Caribbean countries, but also from many countries in Africa, and Bosnia and Eastern Europe; Afghanistan as well.”

Margolis said that her group assists refugee children to enroll in schools and helps their parents enroll in English language classes, among these other services provided to all refugees.

“The first thing we do is we meet the family …”

Koura Abdil-Mohammed [phonetic] is a refugee who fled violence in Somalia fifteen years ago and had been a refugee in Kenya before arriving in the United States two months ago. As part of the entertainment portion of the World Refugee Celebration, he and his family clapped and played drums while one of the younger girls danced.

“When we were in Somalia, there was some fighting that was happening. Then we came immediately to Kenya and stayed almost there fifteen years.”

Maria Alvarez is a refugee from Cuba who waited 12 years for asylum in the United States until she arrived 7 months ago. She hopes to succeed in this country as a singer. Here, she explained her happiness of being in the United States and is translated by Rubis Castro, the Lutheran Services Florida Regional Director.

TRANSLATED: “She is saying that she’s very happy and the United States has helped them a lot and she just feels full as a person.”

To learn more about World Refugee Day, visit the website of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees at unhcr dot org .

For WMNF News, I’m Seán Kinane

Learn more:

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

World Refugee Day, Wednesday June 20, 2007

Lutheran Services Florida

Florida-Bahamas Synod

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

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