Journey to America: A Refugee's Final Departure

October 7, 2008
Burmese Refugees at Bangkok Airport

About the Author: Adam Zerbinopoulos serves as the Deputy Refugee Coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.

BANGKOK, September 25 -- Even though it’s 5 a.m., Myint Myint (not his real name) has been on the move for hours. It was a long way from the refugee camp to the hotel yesterday, and he had to wake up at 2 o’clock this morning to get to the airport on time.

But this is only the latest stage in a journey that has lasted years. Myint Myint and his family, members of the Karen ethnic group, were forced to leave their village in Burma after it was attacked by Burmese soldiers. Burmese troops routinely burn crops, rout villagers from their homes, and force them into portering and other grueling labor. Rape and murder are common. In the last two decades, hundreds of thousands of villagers, most of them from ethnic minority groups, have been violently displaced.

Burmese troops pushed Myint Myint’s family out of their village in 2004. After weeks of moving through the jungle, Myint Myint and his family crossed the border into Thailand and arrived at Umpiem Mai Refugee Camp. None of them thought that they would spend the next several years there. Myint Myint and his family always hoped to return to their village, but with each passing year of continued conflict that dream seemed more and more like an illusion.

Then, last year, Myint Myint learned about something exciting: a way out. As part of a long-standing commitment to the world’s refugees, the United States contributes nearly a billion dollars a year to provide millions of refugees around the world with food, housing, education and a sanitary environment. To the most vulnerable refugees, the United States offers a chance to apply for resettlement. Every year the United States accepts more refugees for resettlement than any other country.

Myint Myint and his family are among the last to depart in fiscal year 2008, when over 60,000 refugees worldwide were admitted to the United States. More than 14,000 of these refugees are Burmese who fled to Thailand. Many of them have lived in refugee camps for decades, or, in some cases, all their lives. The United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) in Thailand is a humanitarian partnership between the United States Government, the Royal Thai Government, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Two implementing agencies, the Overseas Processing Entity managed by the International Rescue Committee and the International Organization for Migration, coordinate the processing of refugees for admission to the United States.

Myint Myint was one of the thousands of Burmese refugees in Thailand eligible to apply to the U.S. resettlement program through UNHCR. After completing his initial paperwork with the Overseas Processing Entity, Myint Myint was interviewed by a U.S. immigration official to determine his eligibility for entry into the United States.

As he waits in the airport, Myint Myint is not sure what he will find in the United States. Upon arrival he will be greeted by representatives of the sponsoring resettlement agency that will provide initial services, which include housing, essential furnishings, food, clothing, community orientation, and referral to other social, medical and employment services, for the refugees’ first 30-90 days in the United States.

The normally bustling airport is quiet at this hour. Myint Myint and his family wait quietly near the gate. While the small children smile and play, the older relatives look anxious. Understandably, Myint Myint admits to feeling a little overwhelmed. For him and other refugees, many more challenges lie ahead, including learning English, finding a job, and adapting to a new culture. It has been a long journey from a Burmese village. But Myint Myint is hopeful that when he gets to America, he will have arrived home.



Syrian P.
October 7, 2008

SNP in Syria writes:

More than 2 million refugees from Iraq ran from brutal U.S. invasion and occupation, are living destitute life in Syria. Few millions more are sheltered in other countries, when Americans will open the door for the Iraqi refugees, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority will permit the 2 million Palestinians living under tents throughout the Middle East back home. Is not the war over, is not Abbas at peace with Israeli, even Syria Assad is seeking peace, so who is speaking on behalf of the homeless Palestinians other than Iran President Ahmadijejad.

Massachusetts, USA
October 8, 2008

VH in Massachusetts writes:

SNP -- Bringing Iraqi refugees into the US has been a Congressional priority in recent years.

The US is by far the largest donor to UNRWA, the UN relief agency that provides Palestinians with food, shelter, medical services, and other necessities.

What does Ahmedinejad do besides talk?

October 8, 2008

Solomon in Madagascar writes:

Mr president of the USA

Mm Rice Secretary of State Gov

For the atanta action terrorism to kill american people and soldier in the world nation, we need prepar hard war with high tecnology armement use for against and finish use work war on terrorism, build us defence for peaces world use for to self and to defend in the world.

Solution in the week: We need respect the democracy and peaces and right of man and load in us country or international ; We not have problem.

Info: Mm Rice to be I not reiceved your and usa help and suport use for contunie us work War on terrorism and realize us peaces world.

Kentucky, USA
October 8, 2008

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Florida, USA
October 9, 2008

Susan in Florida writes:

I found this posting very hopeful. A reminder of what our country means to people around the world. May Myint Myint find his home here, as have so many others, and may he be welcomed by those who came before him.

@ Kirk in Kentucky -- thank you for posting the Emma Lazarus poem. That, too, is a reminder of what our country is really about. I grew up very near to the Statue of Liberty and always loved seeing her.

Texas, USA
October 13, 2008

Sonia in Texas writes:

Very nice piece. You're doing great work!

Texas, USA
October 14, 2008

MA in Texas writes:

We are proud of the work you are doing! And proud of our country.

Texas, USA
October 14, 2008

Ramey in Texas writes:

Wonderful piece, Adam! It's great to have people such as you working on such a critical need.

Connecticut, USA
October 16, 2008

Corinne in Connecticut writes:

Nice job, Adam. It sounds like you are doing great work!


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