By Yuki Nakajima
Northwest Asian Weekly
It is a warm and bright afternoon. Burmese refugees gather at the Kent Covenant Church and wait for the Sunday service to start. They come to the church every week, hoping they can go back to Burma someday.
Burma (Myanmar), an ethnically diverse country ruled by a military regime, has been in a civil war for 60 years. In the viewpoint of the refugees, the Burmese army attacks its own people because it wants the land that people live on.
According to the World Aid Inc. Web site, there are more than 1 million men, women, and children displaced within Burma.
After moving to Seattle, many Burmese refugees are still struggling to survive.
The Burmese population is made of Karen, Chin, Bamar, Kachin, Karenni, Indian, Chinese, Shan, and other ethnic groups. The community is also religiously diverse. Many refugees fled because of the military regime’s attempt to ethnically cleanse Burma, evacuating all ethnicities except for the dominant Bamars. However, to the refugees in Seattle, it attacks everyone and only focuses on its power.
“If the military kills respected people like monks, there is no hesitation to kill us,” said WZ, who spoke on the condition on anonymity. “The military kills us even more. They don’t care about us at all.”
There are unofficial refugee camps in Thailand made up of more than 150,000 people, according to Thai/Burma Border Consortium.
Burmese refugee Gay Htoon says her life in a refugee camp was better than being in Burma, but it was still not a good life.
“Education in camp was slightly better, but I didn’t know what to do with the education [by] staying in the camp,”
Htoon said. “We were not allowed to go outside of the camp. The food provided was rice and salt. It was like a prison.”
“We cannot go back to Burma because all the land we had was evacuated. We don’t have much choice but come to the United States,” she said.
Living in Seattle is hard for refugees to get used to, but they think it’s much better in Seattle than in Burma.
“Of course it’s better to live here because in Burma, we have to struggle to stay alive without having any hope for the future,” said Burmese refugee Kyaw Oo. “Although we have to struggle living here, at least we can see our future.”
Htoon agrees with Oo. She was a villager in Burma and one day, Burma soldiers came to her village and forced her family to work for them by doing menial labor. They took her parents away and took all the food her family had.
“The soldiers couldn’t get what they want. … They beat my dad, so of course it’s better here,” Htoon said.
Refugees like WZ, Oo, and Htoon want to go back to Burma in the future, but they don’t know when it will happen.
In order to make refugees more comfortable living in Seattle, local Burmese community members like Simon Khin works with those who are new to the area. He is planning for the second annual Burmese refugee picnic on July 26. He said the purpose of the picnic is to meet people from different cities, get to know one another, and have fun. He also said the event helps refugees build a social network for getting jobs. Burmese food will be provided, and the event is open for anyone who wants to know about Burma.
“What people in Seattle can do is to become aware of what’s going on in Burma and understand why refugees are here,” Khin said. (end)
Yuki Nakajima can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.