December 19, 2009

Burmese FlagOur first family is two young men, unrelated and unknown to each other until they were assigned to live together when they arrived here. One young man spoke a bit of English and the other spoke no English. Both young men are from Burma and lived in farming villages. They are Chin, one of three large ethnic groups in Burma, and are Christian. They lamented the lack of religious freedom in their country and recounted the role of the military in their decision to leave their families and go to a refugee camp in Malaysia. The military would come into their village and commandeer the population to build roads or act as porters while the soldiers appropriated chickens or other food for themselves. One day, one of these young men was too sick to work and was kicked repeatedly for his lack of effort. The resulting fear prompted him to leave his family and go to the camp. Both men were in the camp in Malaysia for two years before coming to the States. While we visited, two other young men were in the room with them, also without family. Hopefully, the four will fill that role for each other. It’s hard to see young people without any family. As an aside, our translator is also a young Burmese man here on his own who studied in India for four years so has a good command of English. He would like to get a Spanish-English dictionary, knowing that if he can speak Spanish his chances for a job increase.

Bhutanese FlagOur second family is Bhutanese, forced out of their country eighteen years ago by a repressive government. They had lived in a small village in Bhutan where the father farmed, but they have spent almost two decades at a refugee camp in Nepal where the three children learned English. The oldest, a daughter, is 28 and the two sons are 25 and 22. The parents arrived first a year ago with the younger son, and the other children arrived a month ago. The family seemed very cohesive and the older son, though a bit shy, impressed on us their eagerness to get a computer and look online for jobs. The son spoke for the parents in requesting warmer clothes. For all of them, the tight-knit Bhutanese community is a lifeline but even so, the father tends to get depressed.

Cuban FlagOur third family is a married couple who are refugees from Cuba. Most folks come to the US from Cuba as the result of a US visa lottery but this couple came as refugees because of their relationship with their nephew who seems to have been “persona non grata” for the Cuban government. The nephew escaped by boat in 1986 but was caught, put in jail for many years and was fined. Several years ago, he declared himself against the government, went to the office that handles special interests for the US and asked for a visa. His request was granted and he was allowed to bring 12 relatives. Unfortunately, the Cuban government requires a payment of $1200 US for each person leaving the country and since Cubans are paid in Cuban pesos, that amount was impossible for all but the two people whom we met. They left their home with only the smallest of suitcases and the barest minimum of their belongings, leaving everything else behind. They have a varied resume; he has been a butcher, chauffeur, construction worker, car mechanic and she has worked with the elderly, special needs children, styled hair and given massages. They have found a group from a church who are providing them with a lot of fellowship and emotional support.

Xinjiang uyghur East Turkestan flagOur fourth family: “There is no place for religion in a communist government”, was what our interpreter told us. That was one of the many reasons the father of this family left his homeland. Although the family lived in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the father is originally from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in China. Before 1949, this area was called Eastern Turkestan, but was changed to XUAR when China took it over. In 1995, the father fled XUAR to Kazakhstan. There he met his wife and had 3 children. Because people from XUAR are not allowed to work in Kazakhstan, the dad worked at a restaurant and hid from the police. Soon after getting married they applied at the UN, but waited 9 years until the UN told them that they were accepted to go to the U.S. It would be another 1 and 1/2 years before they finally arrived in Phoenix. Among other things, the family could really use some warm clothing.

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