For many refugees, New Year’s Day is a birthday

Yesterday, Jan. 1, 2009, Bill's mom Dawami turned 41 years old. She shared her birthday with tens of thousands of refugees worldwide, who are routinely assigned Jan. 1 birth dates by aid workers when no records exist of their births.

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Yesterday, Jan. 1, 2009, Bill's mom Dawami turned 41 years old. She shared her birthday with tens of thousands of refugees worldwide, who are routinely assigned Jan. 1 birth dates by aid workers when no records exist of their births. Of the 203,566 refugees admitted to the US in the past four years, more than 31,000 were assigned New Year's day as their birthday, usually by the US State Department or the UN refugee agency, explains the Boston Globe. Many of the "Lost Boys," the more than 27,000 children and teenagers displaced or orphaned during Sudan's second civil war, were assigned the birthday. They continue to celebrate it in some cities, as a way to raise awareness about the situation in Sudan, and the genocide in Darfur. "Refugees might not know their birthdays for many reasons: Record keeping is spotty or nonexistent in nations ravaged by war, natural disaster, or government repression. Some regions don't follow the Gregorian calendar. Some cultures don't observe birthdays," reports the Globe. As a result, the New Year's birth date acts as "a tipoff for teachers, case workers, and hospital staff that the refugee might have endured a great hardship."Born in Rwanda, Dawami was only 4 when her family fled violence there and became refugees. She doesn't remember whether or why she was assigned her birthday at the Tanzanian border. She didn't celebrate yesterday because she is studying to become a Jehovah's Witness - a faith whose adherents don't generally observe birthdays or holidays. The day had another significance, though. In all, Dawami spent 34 years as a refugee. This new year, when she hopes to get her US green card, will be just the seventh she has lived outside of a camp.

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