Refugee update Sept. 2009

Quotes from a quarterly report by a local refugee coordinator:

“Even when the economy is down and the unemployment is up, refugees from Burma are coming to the United States every month at a steady rate. From January 2009 to September 2009, we have welcome and helped 22 new families with a total number of 107 people. These families are Karen and Karenni families who came from Thai-Burma border only. Due to the economic recession and the poor language and job skills of the refugees, many of them haven’t found jobs and have survived so far only on welfare. Some of them have found seasonal farming jobs but their jobs ended when the farming season is over. A few families have moved to other states where the rent is cheaper and a job is available. Those who stay in Seattle have faced financial difficulty because the cash assistance they get from DSHS usually doesn’t cover their rent. Besides the rent, they have to pay for utility, telephone and their travel loan. Life is not as easy as they thought it would be.

Activities undertaken during this reporting period: July– September 2009

• Bring furniture, clothes, shoes and food to 4 new families and warm clothes and shoes to 18 families.
• During this reporting period, ( July – September ) we helped 8 families and 5 singles, altogether 43 people to get their Green Cards. The service we provided includes making civil surgeon’s appointments, interpreting for them during the appointments, filling out the application forms and taking them to the immigration office for fingerprints. So far, 4 people have gotten their Green Cards, 34 people have finished their fingerprints process and 5 are waiting to have their fingerprints taken.
• Took 7 families to license office to get their Washington ID cards. Altogether, 15 people got their Washington ID cards.
• During this period, 5 people went to ER; 3 for acute diseases, 1 for childbirth, and 1 for domestic abuse. We provided transportation and interpretation for them.
• Make routine medical appointments for 5 elderly people and take them to their appointments and interpret for them. One got his hearing aid and another one received surgery on both eyes for cataract and both eyes were totally healed.
• Make routine dental and immunization appointments for 8 families; altogether 20 kids. Provide interpreter as needed.
• 2 families received Section 8 government housing voucher and we provided transportation when the families moved.
• Work with 3 school districts as an emergency contact person and provide any assistance needed by both parties. This includes picking up sick children at school, replying calls and emails from school, and interpreting for the families at teacher parents conference.

There are 5 families who were resettled in another county , remote from the community. They face many problems that need to be addressed. For example, one family came in June 2009 but all the family members haven’t received their social security number yet. We visited them only one time, talked about their problems and reported their problems to their caseworkers. Language problem is a big issue for them since their resettlement agency couldn’t find an interpreter who can speak Karen or Karenni.

Many of the Karenni families speak only their own dialect so it is very hard for the resettlement agencies, schools, and clinics to find interpreters for them. Moreover, many of them are from the remote areas in Burma and totally illiterate so it is very hard for them to assimilate to the new society.

Why are the refugees here?  This link to a story recently published in Utah, and this link to a video taken in Burma will help explain what it is they were seeking refuge from.


News Story on Local Karen Refugee

One of the local refugee girls, Helber (age 16), has been a gift to her community in a whole lot of ways…registering other kids for school, helping people with paperwork and appointments….translating….the article below recognizes both her contributions to her community, and the journey to America.

Worst Places to Be A Refugee

The following article by Katie Mattern,  published on IPS, states that “Gaza, South Africa and Thailand are among the world’s worst places to be a refugee according to the latest annual World Refugee Survey released here Wednesday by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI).” (click IPS link above for rest of article).  It goes on to say “15.2 million people qualified as refugees during 2008 – down from 16 million one year ago – and that more than 800,000 were currently seeking asylum in foreign countries.”  Some 26 million more people were internally displaced (IDPs- those who fled their homes but had not crossed an international border).  

The article continues to point out that “Thailand was cited as a poor performer as a result of its treatment of Rohingya refugees – in one case the Thai Navy towed un-seaworthy boats with nearly 1000 Rohingyas and scant food and water aboard into the open sea to prevent them coming from ashore – and its plans to forcibly repatriate Hmong refugees to Laos.

This month in Thailand, refugees from fighting in Burma faced threats of being pushed back across the border.  The article here  explains the threat. According to friends in the area, trucks carrying aid were being turned away by authorities and not allowed into the area. Fortunately, Thai authorities responded graciously, reassigning those responsible, (link here) and the situation for the newly arrived is improving-the threat of repatriation is diminished for now.  

Thailand and the UNHCR have faced many years of dealing with the challenge of refugees from multiple countries.  Many people have found shelter there which has saved their lives, and helped them and their families to move to a life of freedom (not without difficulties!) through resettlement in other countries.  This article from the Irawaddy highlights some of the challenges to the whole system, which views refugees as a burden to the state they end up in, best solved by sending them home.  

Some of the world’s poorest countries are also home to large populations of refugees. Chad, a constant on the U.N.’s list of least developed countries, has a refugee population of 268,000 while Sudan hosts 175,800 refugees from Eritrea and Ethiopia.” (IPS link above)

The report gave Europe a grade of D and the U.S. a grade of F for refoulement or returning refugees to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened. It also gave Europe and the U.S. grades of D for detention/access to courts.” (IPS link above).



Still need: soap, toothbrushes, clothes….

The Irrawaddy today states: “If the fighting continues, at least 8,000 more villagers will have to escape across the border,” said Zipporah Sein, the general secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU).

The key thing now is to provide them with more adequate shelter,” said Sally Thompson, the deputy head of the Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC). “They have food and medical attention, but the flimsy, makeshift homes they are now in provide inadequate protection from the weather.”

Local Thai authorities are drawing up an Action Plan, which would then be discussed with the international aid agencies and local NGOs before implementation.

Many recent refugees are crowded into the grounds of a Thai temple, a couple of kilometers inside the Thai border, where they lack access to basic necessities, aid workers said.

“They are in relatively good condition,” said Kitty McKinsey, the regional spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Mae Sot.

“They are not emaciated, though many have walked for more than seven days to escape from the Myanmar [Burma] army,” she told The Irrawaddy. “They hurriedly left with nothing but the clothes on their back.”

Ma Theingyi, 33, the mother of five children, said: “We desperately need soap, toothbrushes and cooking utensils. More than anything though, we need clothes for our children.”

Zipporah Sein  , (see link for full statement) requests the world community to continue providing humanitarian assistance to the recently displaced and support for the many Karen CBOs working to provide both emergency needs and further community development for those displaced in Karen State.

As the Mom in the article says, they still need soap, toothbrushes, clothes for their kids, and cooking utensils.  Another source in the area asked for hammocks so they are out of the mud to sleep.  Partners Relief & Development, and Free Burma Rangers/World Aid, Inc., are a couple of the organizations contributing to that effort.

A Man Named Rainbow Tells Their Story

News of the families and communities being driven from their homes continues to come from the border, both through conventional news sources, and those working there.  In the first link below, a man named Rainbow tells some of his community’s story.

QGPT 06 our camera 166

One of many kids in Ler Per Hur

(We met Rainbow briefly several years ago, when, after we delivered rice donated from folks here in Seattle. We accidentally disrupted his class-our friend Noah (at about 6′ 2″+) stood out in the crowd.  The kids were  fascinated with this friendly big guy in the bright yellow shirt (and distracted from their  lessons), so Rainbow told Noah to come teach them something).  

A rainbow, in the Bible, was a sign God would not forget His promises, (and that the rain had stopped). Here, according to friends yesterday, they hope it keeps raining–the shelling stops when it rains…..

God, please remember Rainbow, and all the others under attack at the moment.  They are not a news story-they are real people having families, having schools, doing life in a real hard place.   

Some of the news links from this week:

Love Is…

Yesterday had parts that were hard, and parts that were really beautiful.  The beautiful part was making it down to Karen Church in Kent and being able to be there for the celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of a couple who have poured their lives into loving God, their family, their community and seems like most other people who cross their path. 

People from Oregon, Vancouver, the Seattle area, and maybe some others gathered to honor their lives and their relationship.  It was pretty neat to see this 70+ year old gentleman talk about how it had always been his hope to get to celebrate this moment with a community of his countrymen, but since he had brought his family here in the 70’s, that had seemed pretty unlikely.  Wish I knew the language and could have gotten the whole story, but I could catch the essence of how much he loves his wife (and vice versa), and the strength of their love and faith which has brought them through many challenges. 

Hearing him read 1st Corinthians 13 makes it very fresh in my mind today, and I read it with new respect for what is possible if you spend your life trying to live out love…..

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  8Love never fails…”