I don't think I’ve ever felt this amount of fear and loss from a family in my life.
I’m doing a project about the Karen refugees in the New England area. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the top three sources of refugee arrivals in 2012 were:
Why are the Karen refugees coming to the U.S? It actually has been going on since 2005. The world’s largest group resettlement program was initiated in 2005, with the support of the Thai and US government, for the large population of Karen refugee residents at the camps along The border of Myanmar and Thailand.
Anne C. Richard, assistant secretary at the US State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, said that the U.S. had welcomed and settled more than 73,000 refugees from Myanmar since 2005.
From my observations during my first visit to the Karen community in Lowell, I could say that their living situation is quite good. Most of them live in the same government housing building, which provides a close community. The ones that have been here for a while and could communicate in english, can help the freshly arrived families adapt to their new life in the States. For example, I've seen them car-pool to the church and the kids have become play-buddies.
However, life is still tough. The language barrier is a serious problem. Most Immigration Association or NGO representatives speak Burmese and English. But the Karens have their own language and can not understand Burmese. Without the ability to communicate, it would take them longer to settle down and find a job to raise their family on their own. While I was doing a home visit,. I came across a family that had arrived in April , 2014. Shortly after arrival, the mother give birth to a healthy little boy. But almost at the same time, during their resettlement health exam, the doctors found out that the dad had a heart condition. He had to have heart surgery, after which the dad remained hospitalized for two weeks.
When I meet them, they look healthy, but the fear in their eyes remained. While visiting their house, I could see stationary in the house for the kids and children’s books in English and Chinese I saw a couple of suitcases in the corner of their room and I can't help but wonder, “is that all they had when they arrived in the States?” When I try to communicate with the 2 daughters, age 10 and 8, they seem to understand me, but wouldn't reply me in English (or Karen). Very shy girls. I asked them how many hours it took to fly to the United States from home?
"I don't know, but we had to stop in three countries." said one of the girls to my translator.
It was their first time on a plane.
But like most of the immigrant families, the children will be the ambassadors to the outside world for the family. They will pick up the language faster than their parents, and start translating between their teacher and parents during parents days, and reading mail and official documents from various sources. They will have to carry the family on their shoulders.
But for now, no one in the family has the ability to do that.
During a break from our visit, the dad handed over an opened envelope to the translator.
"Because of the lack of material, your food stamps will be paused starting next month."
It was a simple problem;, they just needed to mail in proof of their address, An electric bill could do the trick. But without help, they didn't know what was written in the letter.
I thought the fear in their eyes, was because of me, a stranger talking and taking photos of them. But by the time I said good-bye to them, it’s still there. It wasn't me. It’s this new and strange, life changing period that they have to go through until everything eventually becomes normal again.
Read More at:
Fiscal Year 2012 Refugee Arrivals