Guest post by Hiram Ruiz, DCF’s Director of Refugee Services. This is the last of a series of blog posts detailing trip to Asia, where he is spending time with Burmese refugees. Here are personal refugee stories he heard:
A grandmother separated from children, grandchildren
Mia Yee first fled to Thailand some 30 years ago. She has spent much of her adult life in Mae La camp. About 10 years ago, Mia Yee’s sister in Burma became ill and Mia Yee and her youngest daughter, Moe Moe Kaing, left the camp and returned to Burma to care for her. Mia Yee’s older daughter, Htee Paw, and her husband remained in the camp.
Mia Yee and her younger daughter were in Burma when the last registration for U.S. resettlement took place in 2005. Mia Yee’s older daughter registered, but her sister and mother, who were away, missed out. The older daughter, her husband and young daughter resettled to Jacksonville just under two years ago. I met her and her family in Jacksonville not long before my trip. They are doing well. The husband is working in a printing shop and Htee Paw is at home taking care of her young kids and improving her English.
When Mia Yee’s sister passed away, she and her youngest daughter returned to Mae La, where they remain. The younger daughter has married, has a little girl, and a baby on the way. They all live with Mia Yee. Because Mia Yee and her daughter missed the last resettlement registration, they are not on track to resettle in the U.S. Her daughter in Jacksonville recently had a second child. I brought Mia Yee a photo of the grandson she had not yet seen. I was hoping for a big smile, but Mia Yee broke into tears. I should have anticipated it. The separation from her daughter and grandchildren, and not knowing when or even if she will see them again, is very painful.
My meeting with Mia Yee and her family ended on a very positive note, however. I asked the United Nations officers who were with me if there was hope for Mia Yee’s family to reunite in Florida one day. It turns out there is hope. Apparently the younger daughter’s husband had registered for resettlement in 2005, before the couple married. His registration is valid and thus the whole family can apply for resettlement. Plus, it is likely that registration for U.S. resettlement will take place again later this year, though only for refugees with immediate relatives in the U.S. Since Mia Yee’s daughter is in Florida, they will be eligible through that route also. So in all likelihood, Mia Yee’s family will reunite in Florida within the next couple of years!
Father encourages daughter to go to U.S., pursue her dreams
A 19 year-old young refugee woman I met in Mae La has an even more certain future. She has already been approved to resettle in Florida, where her uncle and his family already live. But she is sad because her father, with whom she lives in Mae La, will not be going with her. While he has encouraged her to take up the opportunity of resettlement, he feels that he is too old to make a new start in another country and has decided to remain behind in Mae La.
Timing prohibits man from leaving Mae La
The final refugee whom I met, a man in his 30s who speaks English quite well, has no such positive prospects. He arrived in Mae La after the 2005 registration and though he too has an uncle who has been in Florida for five years, even if there is a new registration later this year he won’t be eligible to register because an uncle is not considered an immediate relative.
As Mae La enters what may be the final chapter in its 30-year history, the refugee camp’s 47,000 residents, who have been there anywhere from a few years to their entire lives, contemplate the prospects of change in the coming year. For perhaps a few thousand, that change will be a new life in the U.S. or other resettlement country. For most, if recent changes in Burma take hold, repatriation is likely in the coming years. Hopefully they will return to a changed Burma, one where there is peace, greater democracy, and respect for the rights of all its citizens.