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After long road to America, asylum seekers are set to receive citizenship on World Refugee Day

Cartoon drawing of a poster for "World Refugee Day" in Boise. A food truck is depicted with a couple dancing in front of it.
Idaho Office for Refugees

Boise is celebrating World Refugee Day this Saturday with the Idaho Office for Refugees hosting a day of music, food, performances and a long-awaited ceremony for asylum seekers.

The event is co-hosted by the International Rescue Committee and the Agency for New Americans.

The refugees are from Iraq, Congo, Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, Bhutan, Liberia, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Spozhmai Niazi and her husband Wakil are two of the 14 people receiving American citizenship on Saturday.

Originally from Afghanistan, Wakil and Spozhmai arrived in Idaho five years ago after spending three years in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Wakil is a truck driver who’s already visited all 50 states and Spozhmai is a stay-at-home mom to their three young kids.

“We are so happy and so excited about this because we are wait [sic] a long time,” Spozhmai said.

World Refugee Day started in 2001 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention. The treaty established the rights of asylum seekers around the world and the responsibilities of host countries.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer refugees were accepted into the US.

“Our resettlement numbers are coming back up, which is great,” said Kara Fink, the Outreach and Partnership Manager at the Idaho Office for Refugees. “It means we're reconnecting family members who have been waiting for many years, and it means we're helping folks like those escaping from the war in Ukraine.”

“The citizenship ceremony is incredibly meaningful for the people who are going through it,” Fink said.

But the ceremony can also be bittersweet. It’s the culmination of a long and stressful journey.

“Everybody who is up there is so very excited to become a new American, to become a citizen of this country,” she said. “But it also means a loss of former citizenship and a piece of them, a piece of who they are.”

Before receiving their citizenship, Walik and Spozhmai had to pass a difficult test and fill out a lot of paperwork. They also haven’t been able to leave the country and see their loved ones back in Afghanistan for 8 years.

“Everyone in the audience knows the gravity of the situation and it's really just a celebratory time,” Fink explained. “People are very proud.”

But Spozhmai is happy she landed here.

“Everything is good for me in Boise,” she said, “the people are so kind.”

Once they officially become American citizens they are both looking forward to reuniting with families back home and Walik hopes to start his own business in the US.

World Refugee Day celebrations will take place Saturday, June 18 from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Grove Plaza.

Update: A previous version only mentioned Idaho Office of Refugees as an organizer. The post has been updated.