Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Refugees count their blessings on World Refugee Day in Tampa

Reynier Bourzac, 14, Jean Gilles, Emiliana Kliebert, 7, and Erin Brown, 9, from left, search for beads to make necklaces and bracelets at Jefferson High School on Saturday.


Reynier Bourzac, 14, Jean Gilles, Emiliana Kliebert, 7, and Erin Brown, 9, from left, search for beads to make necklaces and bracelets at Jefferson High School on Saturday.

TAMPA — In his own country, Majid Al Jiryawee lived in fear.

Working as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Iraq, he became a target among neighbors who disagreed with the American presence there.

His home was attacked. He was afraid for his wife and 3-year-old son.

"My family and I were in danger," he said.

The U.S. military helped him flee Iraq and get to the United States.

Now, four months later, Jiryawee, 25, finally feels free.

"This is heaven for me," he said Saturday during a celebration of World Refugee Day at Jefferson High School.

In Florida more than 27,000 refugees are resettled each year. Last year, the state Department of Children and Families Refugee Services program helped more than 6,500 in the Tampa Bay area.

The program coordinates education, legal assistance and employment and family programs for refugees through the Tampa Bay Refugee Task Force.

"They're doing work to help refugees settle and thrive in the community," said Janet Blair, community liaison for the DCF's Refugee Services program.

More than 300 people showed up Saturday for the celebration that included presentations by refugees and an award for U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Kathy Castor for their support and advocacy of refugee issues.

When Jiryawee arrived in America, he had no money, no job and no place to live. Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services stepped in to help.

He and his wife now have jobs as a laborer and housekeeper. Their son is learning English and is in child care. They have an apartment in Largo, and Jiryawee is going to school to get his GED.

He feels at home now, he said, but still worries about relatives back in Iraq.

Christy Sui, 26, worries about her family, too.

Since arriving in the United States four years ago from her native Burma, she has yet to see her parents, siblings or friends. She was forced to leave Burma, which is now known as Myanmar, she said, when the country's embassy canceled her documents to live there because of her work as an interpreter for the United Nations.

Coming to America was scary, she said, but she found happiness in her work as an interpreter in courthouses and schools as well as in her service to new Burmese refugees.

"Now they have a translator, they have a community member like me to help them adjust," she said. She often helps them with paperwork for Social Security, Medicaid and other programs.

Maria Morgan, a refugee from Cuba, doesn't like to talk about her old life, she said Saturday through a translator. But she does like to talk about her life so far in America.

Morgan, 56, fled Communist-led Cuba five months ago with her husband and one of her sons after her other son left months earlier. She feels like a new woman, she said.

It's the little things that make her life better now. She can talk to neighbors, visit with friends, go to the grocery store and ride the bus alone.

In Cuba she wouldn't have felt safe doing those things, she said.

"The refugee program helped them get their Social Security, food stamps, an apartment, all their paperwork and also placed them in an employment program," said Yanira Alers, a Catholic Charities employment specialist who interpreted for Morgan.

For now, Morgan is looking for work and helping her husband with his job as a maintenance manager at their Tampa apartment complex.

In the future, she hopes to do the things many in this country hope to do: work, make money and see places she has never seen, all while being free.

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or

Refugees count their blessings on World Refugee Day in Tampa 06/18/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 18, 2011 8:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.
  2. Kushner to testify before two intelligence committees


    WASHINGTON— President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to make a second appearance on Capitol Hill — he will speak with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, one day after he is scheduled to speak with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators behind closed doors.

    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. [Associated Press]
  3. Rays relishing surprise status

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays on Friday played their first post-All-Star Game contest at Tropicana Field while holding a playoff spot since Sept. 23, 2013.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb (53) throwing in the first inning of the game between the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, July 21, 2017.
  4. Exhumation of Dalí's remains finds his mustache still intact


    FIGUERES, Spain — Forensic experts in Spain have removed hair, nails and two long bones from Salvador Dalí's embalmed remains to aid a court-ordered paternity test that may enable a woman who says she is the surrealist artist's daughter to claim part of Dalí's vast estate.

    Salvador Dal? died in 1989 leaving vast estate.
  5. Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show


    WASHINGTON — Russia's ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, current and former U.S. …

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation after meetings with an ambassador were revealed.