Before walking into the front doors of Jefferson High school in Tampa, you could not help but be amazed by the number of anxious people lined up to enter the building where World Refugee Day was taking place last Thursday. Men, women and children had no excuse but to show off their colorful, printed or embellished cultural outfits complemented by some extravagant jewelry. Many attendees were limited in the English language but that did not make a difference as smiling was the universal language used at the event. Over thirty countries were represented by former refugees who had to flee their home countries and move into Florida due to conflicts and wars driven by religious disagreements or political feuds.
“Every four seconds, someone somewhere in the world is forced to flee their home. Every four seconds,” emphasized Jana Mason, Senior Advisor for Government Relations and External Affairs of UNHCR. “That’s probably twenty to thirty thousand people a day.”
The first thing seen at the entrance of the building was a simulation of a typical tent at a refugee camp. The tent was held together by metal rods and covered in thin white cloth, and though relatively small, was efficiently rigged to include a kitchen, bedroom, living room, and even used to hang and dry clothes. The simulation was a perfect representation of the harsh living conditions refugees undergo.
“People complain about homes. They don’t know that this is some people’s home.” said Mohammed from Sudan while pointing at the tent. “They have no choice but to stay in this.”
The room was filled with a sense of joy and happiness that led to a feeling of comfort as everyone was ready to have a good time. The inviting sound of music was accompanied by a variety of foods and drinks that were served. A beautiful display of flags from different countries hung down in neat rows, creating a mesmerizing effect. A number of organizations were tabling to provide a deeper understanding on some other issues that affect people across the world.
A second session commenced in the school theater and a number of extravagant performances occurred as young children from Bosnia and Egypt performed some of their cultural dances, speeches and poet laureate of Tampa, James Tokley, recited “The Refugee” before a fashion show concluded the day.
“Currently, forced displacements are at record high levels," said Mason. "There are over 50 million (displaced) people around the world, over 17 million of those are refugees who have been forced to move international boarders and about 30 million are internally displaced.” said Mason.
The country with the record high of displacement in the world at the moment is Syria, but other countries such as Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Somalia are in the top ten, and with renewed violence in Iraq, that country is seeing its people flee anywhere this weekend. Some the issues that refugees face (apart from the lack of a stable home), is the lack of income. Therefore they are less likely to afford basic necessities such as food and clothes and also the inability for their children to attend school in order to receive a solid education.
Hiram Ruiz, Director of Refugee Services in the Florida Department of Children and Families addressed the audience by saying, “It is our responsibility as adults to take care of these children and make sure they have a good and prosperous life.”
Shermin Shakir a former refugee from Egypt had to leave her country due to the unfair prosecution of Christians, “Actually I had to move, it wasn’t safe at all.” She explained that during that time, things turned out to be so immoral that it was not safe for her and her children, or any Christian in Egypt “I love it here and thanks to all the help, I’ve been able to find a job, had an easier time adapting, they even helped me learn the English language.” She laughed. “I’m getting better I guess. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be here, my family wouldn’t be safe and I wouldn’t be free”