March 22 – 26 was the third annual Refugee Advocacy Week in Florida, and the IRC in Tallahassee and our partners across the state conducted several meetings with Florida elected leaders to elevate the voices of the refugee community, educate legislators, and celebrate the contributions of new Americans in our state.
The IRC in Tallahassee’s Site Manager, Una Bilic, led advocacy training for refugee community members and advocates from across the state and prepared several of her clients to share their personal stories in meetings with elected leaders. Una arrived in Florida as a refugee from Bosnia along with her family when she was a child, and this lived experience has made her a passionate advocate for refugee resettlement and the communities she serves. At the Refugee Advocacy Week Press Conference, Una shared: “I often get asked, ‘How was it living in a war?’ and so many images run through my head (…) There are no good words to explain wars. There is destruction, there is pain and hopefully there is survival. My family’s story is one of survival.
“I always wanted to work with refugees and help them regain and restart their new lives (…) I’m lucky to say that I work amongst the most amazing humans. We provide services to clients who come from the same tragic backgrounds as I did. There is care and compassion. There is empowerment and accountability. And at the end of our hard work days, we know we did everything we could to give our clients a chance at success.”
Una, her team and several IRC clients met with the office of Congressman Neal Dunn, the Office of Congressman Al Lawson, the office of Florida State Senator Loranne Ausley, the office of Florida State Representative Ramon Alexander, and the office of Florida State Representative, Allison Tant during Refugee Advocacy Week.
We are thrilled to share with you the stories of refugee community members who have been welcomed to a new home in Tallahassee—in their own words, as shared with our elected leaders.
"Hi everyone! Elia is my name, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have four siblings and two parents. My four uncles and three aunts and some of our neighbors were killed during the war in DRC. Due to the worst experience during the war my entire family relocated to Uganda as refugees. During the month of March 2009 my family was placed in Changwali refugee camp in Uganda. I was placed in a refugee camp school, my first time to attend school in my life. After four years I started assisting my parents with farm work. I learned a lot of skills in farming as a refugee in Uganda. We lived in Uganda for seven full years as refugees before moving to USA in 2016!
"In 2016 we were able to move to Tallahassee USA as refugees under IRC. We were assisted by the IRC office through many orientations as refugees. A great help indeed! As a family we also joined City Church. My parents are learning English. Currently I am a student at Leon High School with set goals in life. I want to become a man I have always wanted to be as an American citizen. Right now, I am working hard to polish my English and I have joined a soccer club that travels all over the states of USA. I have made friends both at Leon High and in different schools’ travel soccer clubs. My future goal is to complete high school, join college, become a professional soccer player or a doctor or maybe a firefighter. Thank You!"
"Hello everyone, thank you so much for having me. I am Safa, I’m from Syria and I came to USA with my husband family in 2016. I have three kids. Rama is in middle school and Bassam in elementary. They are doing so good in school. Bassam is in gifted. My daughter Maria is one and a half years old.
"I left my country about nine years ago. It was so hard to leave Syria, but we looked for a safe place to live for me and my family. When they asked me to come to the USA, I saw a good life and amazing future for me and my family because America provides human rights, freedom and expression. When I arrived to the USA we were so excited and happy and a little nervous of the new life. After that we met Una, Tara and everyone in the IRC. They helped me, supported me and my family and guided us.
"My father-in-law and his sons opened a small business in Tallahassee—Melano Construction & Maintenance LLC. We are professionals with house repairing, painting, upholstery and carpentry. The most difficult thing we faced is language. I knew how to write and to read but when I speak English it was really hard for me. I have two sisters in Jordan, and they hope to come to the USA because they want a better life and also, I miss them a lot. I hope for a good future for me, my husband, and my kids. Finally, I’m very thankful for the people that helped me—Una, Tara and the US Government."
"Hello everyone! Freddy is my name, I’m from Zambia. I have five siblings and my lovely two parents. They are the only family I know, and the rest my parents told me they were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to war. Both my parents lost their families and decided to flee the country because it was not safe for them anymore and relocated in Zambia as refugees. At first, I thought they were lying to me when they told me all those stories about them in DR Congo, but there were times in Zambia where we could get discriminated—my parents getting arrested and seeing people get shot. I came to realize how painful that is because I also lived in the bloody conflicts. Every time I see a gun, guess what happens to me?
"In 2018 I was able to move to the United States of America and get help from the International Rescue Committee. They gave us a shelter, enrolled us in schools and got us jobs. I was able to start a living, I took my GED exam and now am studying at Tallahassee Community College. My family and I are having a happier life. And it will be great if the government of the United States continues to help refugees as they did to me. People out there need help. I will be happy to help always."
“Hello everybody. Thank you for this beautiful meeting! I’m Belal, from Syria. Me and my family left Syria 9 years ago. It was a really hard feeling because it was the first time we left our country. But we had to because we needed to find peace and go away from the war. We went to Jordan and we stayed 5 years there. When they called us to come to USA, I saw a wonderful future coming to me. The reason is because America is a country that provide humans right and it is a democratic country!
“We came here 4 years ago and when we arrived here we were so happy but also nervous. However, Una, Tara, and everyone in the IRC group made us feel less nervous and more welcomed. After a while, we opened a small business because we are professionals with house repairing and finishing and in addition, we are upholstery and carpenters. We started to get in touch with some people and build a community. I always tried my best with speaking and improving my English.
“I hope that other refugees will come here too and have the same chance that I had. I also wish that our business will get better. At the end, thank you all and god bless you and bless the United States of America.”
“Good morning everyone I’m Celestin from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have one young brother and parents, but we separated because of the war that took place in 2013 and my village was attacked, the war killed a lot of people including my grandfather. I and my neighbors managed to flee until we found ourselves in another country called Zambia and gave us refuge. I was sent to a transit called Makeni while others were sent to a camp called Mayukwayukwa which is located in Western Province of Zambia. After spending one year in that transit, I was sent to the same camp where I was schooled and I was spending my free time by farming vegetables and tomatoes and sold them at the market to be able to make a living. I got a job after school as a cashier and got married in 2019.
“On September 22, 2020 I arrived in USA and was welcomed well by IRC staff who gave me a place to sleep, helped me pay rent, took me to doctor’s appointment and enrolled me in English class. I’m now in GED class and very soon I will pass it because I’m making progress. Everyone I meet is good, kind and friendly. I’m open to join any community charity that needs manpower. And I encourage every refugee to learn English and get their GED. I’m facing some challenges with transportation to go to school and work due to the bus running late and I’m looking for a way to bring my family to stay with me. I thank you the USA government and IRC for accepting me to stay here.”
To learn more about the work of the IRC in Florida and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Development Manager, JC Torres, at Juan.Torres [at] Rescue.org (subject: IRC%20in%20Florida) or 786-575-2359.
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