Officially, yesterday was World Refugee Day, but since it received no interest by the media in this country, I thought I would write about it today.
Yesterday, at the White House East Garden, First Lady Laura Bush delivered a short speech and welcomed three guest speakers, all recent refugees, tell their stories. The three were: Eh Moo Hoffman, who was "born in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border. Her parents had fled from Burmese soldiers who tortured, raped, and killed her native Karen people. After more than 20 years living in danger, she and her family were able to resettle in the United States last year." She is still young, a sweet woman in her early twenties, and had a bit of trouble keeping up with her speech on paper. It was endearing. I wanted to just tell her, "take your time, just take a breath."
Zeyad Abdel Okhowa "fled Iraq with his family after his work with the U.S. Embassy in Al Hillah put him in danger. Today, he works with the State Department's Digital Outreach Team to help improve understanding between Arab and Muslim communities and the United States." He was funny. He was a bit of an advertisement for the Chamber of Commerce of Boise, Idaho. Boise is where he originally was welcomed in this country, along with his family. He said the city treated them almost like celebrities. He recommended everyone visit Boise.
Rose Mapendo's "husband was executed,and she and her children were imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She gave birth to twins while she was in jail, and she struggled to keep them alive. Rose and her children fled the Congo on an emergency evacuation flight in 2000. Today, she's an American citizen and the spokesperson for "Mapendo International, " a non-governmental organization that assists refugees." She was a very sympathic figure. A woman, a widow raising 7 children on her own, escaping her country with her children in an emergency evacuation flight. She spoke of her fear and imprisonment in her country. She spoke of witnessing the execution of her husband and other men in the village. She broke down and wept a bit as she spoke. And, she was beautifully attired in her native dress.
All delivered moving first hand accounts of leaving homelands and coming to America to start a new life and experience the gifts of freedom of movement, speech and the ability to pursue work and provide for their families. All three expressed thanks to the American people and to President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. Sorry, haters. America is a force for good in this world.
Laura Bush announced that President Bush approved a $32.8 million emergency funding bill to support "unexpected and urgent needs, including food, for refugees and conflict victims in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Western Hemisphere."
Laura Bush said a U.N. survey concludes that there are 11 million refugees worldwide, and millions more displaced by conflict and persecution. World Refugee Day allows people around the world to recognize these men, women, and children.
I hope that some of the hurdles that the Iraqi refugees face when trying to come to America and begin a new life will soon be removed. It is a long and difficult process. My husband has had the honor of writing letters of reference and letters of recommendation for several men with whom he worked during his time in Iraq and with whom he remains in touch. We wish them all the best.
I hope we all do. And God help them all if America withdraws before the ones left behind have a chance of survival.
"It is only a matter of time the people of Iraq will prove to the naysayers the people of the Middle East want democracy", said Zeyad Abdel Okhawa.