Refugees share their stories at USF event

When violence began to escalate in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, Ahmed Alobaidi was forced to flee his country.

“My family was working with the American troops and someone left a note with a bullet on our doorstep saying we should stop or they would stop us,” he said. “We did not take the threat seriously and our house was bombed.”

Alobaidi said he fled first to Jordan, then Egypt and now hopes to start a new life at USF as a computer science major in the fall.

Alobaidi was one of many refugees who shared their life stories Friday during the World Refugee Day event at USF.

For the second year, the USF African Student Association (ASA) partnered with Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) to collect items that refugee families need, including clothes, shoes and school supplies, said Rubis Castro, regional director of LSF.

Though the ASA has yet to count the donations received this year, Director of Activities Ijeoma Ekenta said she is confident they collected more than last year and hopes to continue the event.

“This is a great program Lutheran Services Florida has and we support the ideals they promote,” she said. “Students love helping these people because they are real human beings we can impact, people who are making a better life for themselves.”

Alobaidi said LSF is a great help to those seeking refuge in Florida by assisting in transitional barriers.

“It has been difficult to come to USF because of the need for transcripts to transfer,” he said. “It is difficult to get my transcripts from Iraq because the ministry is under such tight security. It was supposed to take one month but I have been waiting for seven months so far.”

In 2001, the United Nations proclaimed June 20 as World Refugee Day to raise awareness about people displaced from their homelands and beginning new lives all over the world.

At Friday’s event, the groups celebrated the thousands of refugees who have chosen the Tampa Bay area as their new home, Castro said. The celebration, which was held in the TECO room of the College of Education building, featured many guest speakers, including former USF President Betty Castor.

Florida has resettled 76,000 refugees through the U.N., as well as 225,000 humanitarian immigrants, Castor said. She said Tampa is the second largest area of resettlement for refugees in Florida.

The refugees come from every corner of the globe — from Cuba to Cameroon and most recently Iraq, Castor said.

Castro said she is grateful to the students of ASA for making the collection such a success.

“The government provides us with $425 per family for resettlement,” she said. “Because they have to be totally self sufficient in 90 days that means we need to get them an apartment and provide everything from furniture to toothpaste. Donations really help in that regard.”

Ekenta said USF hopes to continue their partnership with LSF to promote awareness of refugees in our area.

“Students can make things happen. They can raise awareness so that people will not forget,” Castro said. “Students can bring hope to the refugee children who have lost hope, who have seen nothing but war and devastation their whole life.”