Since the 1960s, Miami-Dade County has become home to hundreds of thousands of refugees, including more than 100,000 Cuban or Haitian entrants, and Colombian and Venezuelan asylees who have settled here in the past five years.
While most refugees come to our state from Cuba and live predominantly in Miami-Dade, others arrive from some 60 countries and reside in more than 40 counties. In 2008, Florida’s newly arrived refugees included Burmese, who fled that country’s totalitarian regime; Colombians, targeted by guerilla and paramilitary forces involved in their country’s long-standing internal conflict; Iraqis, whose lives were threatened because they aided U.S. forces in Iraq; Haitians fleeing political violence; and members of a persecuted ethnic minority group forced from the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Cubans and Haitians have lost their lives at sea seeking freedom and opportunity. Their deaths serve to remind us of the lengths to which refugees will go to flee persecution, repression, and the denial of basic freedoms that we in the United States enjoy. Others desperate to share our freedom remain in Cuba, behind bars or prevented from leaving the country by the regime.
This week members of these refugee groups will gather across the state to commemorate World Refugee Day in their welcoming communities. In Miami-Dade County commemoration began on June 14 in the Stephen P. Clark Government Center Building bringing together the network of providers, resettlement agencies and partners who welcome our refugees. The theme this year in Miami-Dade County is “Stronger Networks Create Welcoming Communities.”
Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa congratulated the Office of Refugee Services and all of the partners who welcome and assist refugees in Miami-Dade. In addition, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution declaring June 20 as World Refugee Day in Miami-Dade County now and into the future. The resolution also encourages Miami-Dade County residents to observe this day and learn more about the opportunities available to serve refugees and celebrate the contributions refugees make to our community.
The state of Florida has successfully resettled tens of thousands of refugees over the years, many of whom have become influential members of our communities. The state and its municipalities remain firmly committed to a proud tradition of assisting and welcoming refugees.
The Florida Department of Children and Families coordinates federally mandated and funded refugee services to more than 27,000 individuals eligible to receive them each year. The goal is to assist refugees to achieve economic self-sufficiency and social adjustment within the shortest possible time after their arrival in the United States. Job training and placement, child care, health screenings, immigration assistance, and English classes are among the services they receive. (www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/refugee-services)
As its name suggests, World Refugee Day is a worldwide event. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is responsible for some 33 million refugees and displaced persons in 116 countries, also is hosting events worldwide to mark World Refugee Day.
It is therefore also a time to remember the many millions of other refugees worldwide who, despite having found protection in United Nations refugee camps, still lack adequate food, water, shelter, and education. UNHCR’s goal is to draw the rest of the world’s attention to those refugees, who need the international community’s help to survive day to day.
Hiram Ruiz, statewide director, Refugee Services, Florida Department of Children and Families