Filled with hope and promising to work hard, two Burmese refugees who had never before known freedom arrived last month in the United States. “From the time I was in the camp, my ambition was to come here and work and study hard,” said Eh Toh Pah, 23. He and fellow refugee Ko Thein Lwin had spent most of their young lives in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border.
On June 15, the two Karen refugees arrived in Utica, New York, as part of a resettlement program directed by the U.S. State Department and the International Organization of Migration. Thousands of other Karen refugees still wait their turn. The two Karen youths had traveled from the Mae La refugee camp to the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees in Utica.
“In the past 25 years, we have resettled more than 11,500 refugees from more than 30 different countries around the world,” center director Peter Vogelaar said. “As of today, we have resettled about 600 Burmese refugees, 90 percent of them ethnic Karen. For the people coming in who have never been to the United States or who have lived in a refugee camp for 10 to 20 years, there are many things to learn about their new apartment or new town. I think this can be a big shock.”
I believe that I will reach my goals someday
Both Ko Thein Lwin and Eh Toh Pah are 23 years old. Ko Thein Lwin arrived at the Mae La camp in 1986 and lived there for 21 years. “I lived in the refugee camp from the age of two. I am very happy to have come to the United States,” said Ko Thein Lwin. “Here, the cities and scenery are all beautiful. And the people are charming.”
Eh Toh Pah had lived in the Mae La camp for 18 years, since he was five. “I believe that I will reach my goals someday,” he said.
According to the latest report from the Free Burma Rangers, a relief organization working in the conflict areas of eastern Burma, a Burmese Army offensive in Karen State has continued through May and June.
Six villagers were killed on June 2 in Mon Township, Nyaungelbin District, said the aid group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Three weeks later, in P’Na Ner village, the village headman was captured by Burmese Army troops who slit his throat, according to the CSW report.
Producer-cameraman: Khin Maung Soe, Burmese Service, Radio Free Asia.