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Tampa Bay Welcomes New Citizens for World Refugee Day

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M.S. Butler

Refugees flee their homes out of fear, violence or persecution.

Like Manael Ibrahim.  She fled the war in Iraq in 2002 for safety in Jordan. But after being denied permanent asylum in Jordan she and her family came to the United States, and to Tampa.

"I never imagined that it can happen and I'd be a American, you know. It's really great," said Ibrahim.

She's among the more than 32,000 refugees who settle in Florida every year, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families' Refugee Services program. In the  Tampa Bay area alone, more than 3,100 arrived last year.

June 20 has been named World Refugee by the United Nations. And Ibrahim and 35 other refugees this week observed it a few days early at Tampa's Immigration Field Office, about to take the Oath of Allegiance and become American citizens.

After singing the National Anthem, regional immigration office director Kathy Redman administers the oath of allegiance.

Afterward, as a Lee Greenwood country song played over the loud speakers, the new citizens spontaneously stand and wave their small American flags, many making no effort to hold back tears.

Speakers encourage the new citizens to participate in their communities, even run for political office. On the way out they can apply for Social Security numbers and register to vote.

Ibrahim, who is training to be a day care worker, said she already feels welcome in her new home.

 "Nobody treats me like I'm strange. I love American people they are very very nice," she said. "They don't say no--you are different than me--no. We accept each other and that is what makes America great."

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Credit M.S. Butler
Manael Ibrahim smiles proudly after becoming an American citizen at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Field Office in Tampa.