Refugees become citizens at World Refugee Day

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Many local refugees can now call America their true home this week. On Saturday the Tampa Bay Refugee Task Force celebrated World Refugee Day with naturalization ceremonies, awards, films, and resettlement services from local refugee organizations in Tampa and Largo.

Waving small American flags, newly naturalized US refugees were declared citizens, some after waiting almost a decade. The Tampa Bay Refugee Task Force is a coalition of the dozens of local agencies that help refugees settle, integrate and prosper in this community. They sponsored the event. Field office director for US Citizenship and Immigration Services in Tampa Brett Rinehart says the US is a safe haven for refuges seeking freedom from adversity in their home countries.

Vervieu Germinal is a refugee from Haiti, who just became a citizen.

Although many refugees fled Haiti following last January’s earthquake, Germinal came to the US to escape political turmoil in 1989.

But while Germinal and his family are now safe, some members of his family members in Haiti were affected by the recent quake.

Natural disasters are a common reason for people to seek refuge, and now that Germinal is a citizen, his family will also benefit from his new status.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services presided over the naturalization ceremony. Their representative Yolanda Alameida says that Germinal’s children will now have an easy road to also gaining their citizenship.

20 refugees and asylees in Tampa gained citizenship and even more refugees became citizens later that day at the Largo library.

Many of the refugees have dreamed and worked for this moment for years. Almeida says that refugees have little control over their plight, and are forced to flee.

She distinguishes refugees from asylees, who flee to the US for other reasons.

One asylum seeker was Solomon Mekonnen, once a blind Ethiopian orphan, who came to the US as a Fullbright scholar, and became a citizen. He didn’t return to his country because he said it was unsafe due to the political turmoil and unrest. He said his desire and persistence to take advantage of all his opportunities in America have made him happy to be here.

According to the state Department of Children and Families, more than 17,000 refugees have been resettled in this region. The majority of them are Cubans and Haitians but Tampa Bay has also received people in need from Iraq, Vietnam, Burma, Colombia and many other countries.