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Michelle Tessier, Deseret News
Justina Nayic, a refugee from Sudan who was sworn in during the ceremony, hugs Elijah Philip, right, and Eva Mike, left, during the World Refugee Day Festival at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City, Saturday, June 7, 2014.
It is a really tough thing. Many of these people have lived in refugee camps for generations. Many come alone. They don't know the language, they don't know the tools for the transition. —Deb Coffey, Utah Refugee Center

SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty-three refugees took the Oath of Allegiance Saturday, making them citizens of the United States.

The ceremony, brief as it was, culminated 23 individual journeys through personal tribulation, 23 lives that have held onto hope, and 23 desires to "bear true faith and allegiance" to the country each now calls home.

The Utah Refugee Center hosted the event at Liberty Park as part of World Refugee Day.

Many states across the United States, as well as other places throughout the world, recognize World Refugee Day as an opportunity to celebrate the cultural contributions that refugees make to the societies where they settle, according to Deb Coffey, executive director and project manager for the Utah Refugee Center.

"This is Utah's way of celebrating all of the culture and the great things that refugees who have resettled in Utah bring to our state," she said.

The naturalization ceremony was the pinnacle of the event and what the non-profit Utah Refugee Center strives to accomplish in assisting refugees.

"It's a victory and a celebration for them and a day that they will remember for the rest of their lives, as will we, I'm sure," Coffey said.

It is not an easy path, an accomplishment that natural born U.S. citizens may take for granted.

As Jeanne Kent administered the oath, the crowd of onlookers that included friends, family and other supporters fell into a subdued silence, taking in the solemnly-voiced vows of allegiance and defense of country.

"It is a really tough thing," Coffey said. "Many of these people have lived in refugee camps for generations. Many come alone. They don't know the language, they don't know the tools for the transition."

Kent said the oath was administered to a diverse group of refugees persecuted along ethnic or religious lines who first became permanent U.S. residents for at least five years and then who successfully completed an application process that took six months.

They came from Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Nepal, Bhutan, Brazil, Burma, the Central African Republic and the Republic of Uzbekistan, joining Utah's refugee community numbering 50,000 people.

Coffey said each year, between 1,000 and 1,200 new refugees come to Utah to lay claim to a new life and share the old ways of their home country, their culture.

At Saturday's event celebrating such diversity, Jambo Africa's Burundi Drumming Group delivered a lively performance that combined hearty dance with passionate and rhythmic drumming.

The Sudan Sisters also regaled the crowd with a sassy, hip-swaying dance that had people clapping along, followed by a dancer from Nepal.

The stage was an opportunity to showcase the boys' refugee basketball team, made up of 75 members who must maintain a 2.5 GPA to play.

Across the lawn, a Boer goat nursed her two kids inside a pen, drawing attention to the East African Refugee Goat Project of Utah. The project involves a herd of about 80 goats, raised for meat and to support the Utah Burundian, Somali Bajuni and Somali Bantu refugee communities.

Gustave Deogratiasi, who is also part of Jambo Africa, said the project has 36 kids from 44 mother goats and grows each year.

It can be tough to find good quality goat meat, which is the leanest red meat out there, according to project organizers.

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Joshua Lloyd, with the International Rescue Committee — a partner in the project — said the goats provide a means of financial support for the refugee communities and also help out with the yard work for corporations like Rio Tinto.

Through the formation of new partnerships, the goats are "deployed" as an eco-friendly, land management solution — walking weedeaters — to help with overgrown grasses and other potential fire hazards.

"It's been a worthwhile project," Lloyd said.

World Refugee Day is in its seventh year and celebrated its second showing at Liberty Park.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16