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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Former Burmese political prisoner chosen for U.N. input

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

He will attend conferences in Washington, D.C.

Saturday, July 30, 2011 09:20 am
Myo Myint, a political refugee from Burma now living in Fort Wayne, has been selected to attend the United Nations Refugee Congress next week in Washington, D.C.This is the first year for the refugee congress being hosted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The congress will act as a voice for the 3 million refugees who have found protection in the United States over the past 60 years, and it will commemorate the 1951 Convention of Refugees. Over the two days, the congress will address various refugee issues and try and come up with solutions that will be presented to the UNHCR Ministerial meeting, the administration and the Congress of the United States, and other refugee program players. Fifty delegates, one from each state, and another 10 notable refugees will attend.

The congress will have four workshops, in which delegates will discuss different areas of refugee resettlement: pre-departure and initial resettlement; social, economic and cultural integration; support and protection for refugees outside the U.S.; and the refugee voice in the U.S. and beyond the refugee congress.

Myo Myint said he is particularly interested in discussing support and protection for refugees outside the U.S. Burma – which the ruling military junta has renamed Myanmar – has refugees in countries all around the world including large populations in China and Malaysia, and some in Bangladesh.

According to Myo Myint, recently some of the refugees in Bangladesh were shot and killed for no apparent reason. In October, The New York Times reported that Burmese refugees there were being beaten and deported while thousands were living in squalor in crowded refugee camps. Myo Myint said in Malaysia more than 1 million Burmese work as migrant laborers, some illegally.

He is also interested in discussing pre-departure and resettlement. Before he came to the United States he went through an application process and was interviewed by the Department of Homeland Security. Fortunately he spoke enough English that he realized when the translator who was helping with the interview translated a crucial statement wrong. He had been asked why he was coming to the country, and he had told the translator he had been a political prisoner in Burma.

The translator told the interviewer that Myo Myint had been a prisoner, but he left out “political.” Myo Myint clarified the error. Had he not, it could have jeopardized his application. He said for Burmese or ethnic groups who don't even speak Burmese, much less English, this can be critical; bad translation can get valid applicants rejected.

Those who do make it through the application process are given exactly five days of cultural orientation before they leave for America.

Myo Myint said once he got to Fort Wayne he was given only five more hours of orientation. It was enough for him because he had studied American culture before coming here, but for those who haven't, it just isn't enough.

In addition to attending the congress, Myo Myint will also be attending the annual Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) 2011 National Consultation on Monday and Tuesday. There he plans to discuss the importance of refugees taking English as a Second Language classes.

Myo Myint said people who have been living two or three generations in refugee camps are used to being subsidized. When they come here, they only have 90 days of federal support, and then they must apply to the local townships for support. In Norway, Burmese refugees are supported for two years while they take mandatory Norwegian language classes.

If they refuse, they are asked to leave the country. Although Myo Myint isn't advocating the same sort of plan here, he sees language classes as critical in the assimilation of the Burmese into the local population.

“Some of them think they won't have to work here, but that is not case, and you must speak English to get a job,” Myo Myint said.

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