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Politics

San Diego Groups Celebrate World Refugee Day

A flier for the Alliance for African Assistance's World Refugee Day breakfast on June 20, 2016.
Alliance for African Assistance
A flier for the Alliance for African Assistance's World Refugee Day breakfast on June 20, 2016.
San Diego Groups Celebrate World Refugee Day
San Diego Groups To Celebrate World Refugee Day GUEST: Mohammed Tuama, Iraqi refugee

Escaping persecution or death in their native land, being resettled in a strange country, learning a new language and understanding culture of the lease are challenges, these days refugees have to overcome the suspicion of some of their new countryman. On this World Refugee Day, San Diego honors thousands of refugees who been resettled in our region. In recent years most of those residents have come from Iraq, Somalia and Syria. I spoke with Mohammed Tuama . He was born in Iraq, he gave the keynote speech us morning at an alliance of African assistance breakfast highlighting the success of local refugees. I understand that you fled in Iraq, as a result of the war. Yes. There are some things that you don't want to tell us about the circumstances surrounding your flight from in Iraq. Did you receive death threats? Yes. It's mostly because, everyone who speaks English back home, they start to target us. So we don't build bridges with the Army and let them know go -- what's going on. Did you feel, specifically threaten, your life was really in danger if you stayed? Yes. A lot of colleagues of mine were killed. When you decided to leave Iraq, who and what did you leave behind? All of my family. Friends, relatives, I skipped by myself. Did your family want you to stay? Yes. He did. I don't know where to go. I had to leave, but I never knew where to go. The closest country was Jordan, this is where I have family and elated that used to be with me in college. She is my wife now. She moved to Jordan, I followed her there. I stood there for three years. I want to ask, you would to Jordan first, did you think about staying there? No. Not for one day. I wanted to go back. It was 2006, at that time. Day after day it was getting worse. When did the operated -- opportunity arise to go to the United States? After a few months, I applied for refugee status. In Jordan I was not allowed to work, I did not have permanent residence. I used to work there without a permit, it was very hard. I wanted to go somewhere where I could work and do something. It took me almost 2 1/2 years. There's been a lot of debate, as you know, concerning the screening of refugees. As you say, we've heard it's a two-year process. What is that two years -- two-year process? It's basically, your background and your biography. I don't feel it's a security process, the screening process will be the last point you get to. Everything before is filing, Google every six months to renew the case, people stay there for years. As the case winds through the bureaucracy? Yes. Now, you are a job consultant. You are being acknowledged for your success in the community. What kinds of skills did it take for you to get ahead? It was understanding the culture. We have skills, there are hundreds of refugees with skills, degrees, it's just to understand the labor market and how to market their skills. That was the first thing that I learned. I volunteered, this is what made me know how to connect. You work with refugees, now. You help them find jobs. What are the obstacles, besides the ones you just talked about, is at the language? You were fortunate enough to speak English when you came here. Is that the language, is that the way of life in the US? It is language, transportation, understanding what the job is in America. Most people don't understand what the job is, in America. Showing them what they can do or what they will be doing if they are hired. Most of them live in stereotypes that the job is very hard, most of them are communicating issues. You show them the workplace and what they will be doing and where they will be going, to break down barriers. Yes. They do not know the US terminologies, between Taylor and seamstress, they apply for Taylor job, or designer. My job is to conduct -- connect the languages. Do you think you will ever go back to Iraq? I hope, I wish. I have not been since 2006. Now you are being acknowledged as, what is the title of the award? It's the most achieved refugee. What have you told the audience, after you've received that award? What are you saying about the opportunities that are available? I'm really proud of having this nomination. There are hundreds of their, -- out there, refugees that are professional and deserve this nomination too. I've been speaking with Mohammed Tuama, he gave the address and an Alliance for African Assistance breakfast, highlighting the success of local refugees. Congratulations.

Over the past four decades, more than 80,000 refugees have settled in San Diego County. Just over a thousand have arrived here this year, mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.

A flyer for the San Diego Refugee Forum's World Refugee Day event on June 25, 2016.
San Diego Refugee Forum
A flyer for the San Diego Refugee Forum's World Refugee Day event on June 25, 2016.

The topic of asylum seekers has been a contentious talking point lately in the U.S., as terrorism attacks abroad and within our borders prompt concerns about safety. But World Refugee Day, which falls on June 20, aims to celebrate the refugee population and raise awareness about the plight of those fleeing their homelands.

San Diegans can mark the international occasion at events in Point Loma, La Jolla and City Heights, where a large population of San Diego's refugees have settled.

World Refugee Day is officially on Monday, but local events to mark it begin on Saturday with the Nile Sisters Development Initiative holding a showcase of African and Caribbean cuisine, crafts and music at the Women's Museum of California. A spokeswoman for the initiative said proceeds from ticket sales will help cover training and fees for immigrants and refugees seeking nursing certificate, childcare facility license or a driver's license.

On Monday, the local nonprofit Alliance for African Assistance will host a breakfast at La Jolla Presbyterian Church to highlight the successes of refugees. Tickets start at $40.

On Saturday, June 25, a group of local resettlement and support agencies known as the San Diego Refugee Forum will hold its celebration at the City Heights Library and Performance Annex. The event will include performances, crafts and children's activities.

This year, World Refugee Day falls near the 65th anniversary of the Refugee Convention, when world leaders formally recognized the rights of displaced people who receive asylum and the responsibilities of countries that grant it.