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Jacksonville Welcomes New Citizens During World Refugee Day Celebration

Allie George
Refugees and immigrants from 25 countries became citizens during a naturalization ceremony.

Children dressed in the traditional garb of their respective countries stomp and swirl across the stage in Hemming Park, while music booms over loudspeakers.

The cultural dances and fashion show are part of Jacksonville’s observance of World Refugee Day, which the United Nations designated for June 20. 

The day is about remembering the millions of individuals around the world driven from their homes because of unsafe conditions and persecution, but also about celebrating the contributions they’ve made to their new home countries.

Sarmila Koirala, a refugee in Nepal’s Timai camp but now she lives in Jacksonville, stood at the microphone and announced the groups of young dancers.

“If we encourage the children, they will make their future good in this country. They have a chance, they have opportunity here, they will make it,” she said.

Resettling into a new country, however, is a lengthy process, said LeAndra Stafford, program coordinator of Integration Assistance at Catholic Charities. Stafford works to help refugees find jobs, housing, and medical care.

“Everybody wants to be in their home, but they know that they can’t stay there. So they choose to come here so that they can have a better life,” she said. “They’re grateful when everyone gives them the opportunity, that they don’t judge them by what they look like, but they get to know them personally.”

Meanwhile, inside the Jacksonville Library, refugees and immigrants from 25 countries became citizens during a naturalization ceremony. Kathy Redman, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Southeast Regional Director, recited an oath with the 46 men and women.

“In this year, we’ll naturalize about 750,000 new citizens in America, and that’s what makes America great: the diversity that we have, and the wonderful things that all our immigrants bring to this country to make it such a wonderful place,” she said.

The ceremony concluded with the newly minted citizens and their families joining in a rendition of “God Bless America,” while dozens of tiny American flags waved throughout the crowd.