World Refugee Day celebrated at USF listen06/19/09 Seán Kinane
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Tomorrow is World Refugee Day. A celebration of people around the world who are seeking asylum from dangerous conditions in their home countries was held today at the University of South Florida.
Ahmed Al Obaidi is a refugee who has only been in the United States for four months. During the American occupation of his country, he was attending college in Baghdad, Iraq. “I got approved to come to United States.”
Obaidi thanked the crowd for giving him a second chance at life -- he hopes to finish his education here. Mogtaba Maki has been in the United States long enough to do just that. One of the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan, Maki graduated from USF last month and is preparing for dental school.
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio proclaimed Friday as World Refugee Day in the city, through a letter read by the city’s Director of Community Affairs, Kenneth Perry.
Phyllis Fleming, refugee services community liaison with the state’s Department of Children and Families, read a World Refugee Day proclamation from Governor Charlie Crist.
The theme for this year’s World Refugee Day is "Real People, Real Needs." In a video message on the UNHCR website, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, appeals to people who work with refugees that because of the current global economic crisis, it is more difficult than ever to meet their needs.
Refugees have many high-profile supporters. A campaign called “Gimme Shelter” uses the Rolling Stones song to draw attention to the needs of refugees – “give refugees shelter, it’s just a click away.” On the campaign’s website is a short film produced by Ben Affleck. On the World Refugee Day website, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie narrates a video message calling for support of refugees.
Former USF president Betty Castor, who is the executive director of the Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions, says that not all refugees come from regions with military conflicts.
An information and health fair accompanied the World Refugee Day commemoration at USF. People could learn about services offered to refugees.
Daryl Rosenthal from the Social Security Administration reminded people that in order to get a social security number, a refugee needs an I-94 form with a refugee stamp.
Lourdes Mesias with Lutheran Services Florida says that the U.S. Department of State gives agencies $425 to resettle each refugee. But for that small amount, a refugee requires a furnished apartment and other services.
In Pinellas County, P-TEC offers refugee classes, according to Irma Gonzalez, a placement coordinator for the Pinellas Refugee Education Program.
Lesleigh Lopez is project manager for the Leadership Acculturation Center which helps refugees in Hillsborough County Schools.
For the second year in a row, there was no mention of Palestinian refugees at the USF commemoration of World Refugee Day. According to Samar Jarrah, the co-host of the WMNF program True Talk, since 1948 four million Palestinians have become refugees. Both of her parents were from communities in what is now considered Israel. As a refugee, Jarrah has migrated from Kuwait to Jordan to Lebanon to Egypt to Saudi Arabia to the United States. She says that being a refugee is not just about living in tents, it’s a “total rupture of your past and present and future.”