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Two Burmese Refugees To Settle in Nelson

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
March 19th, 2012

The Nelson Refugee Committee is bringing two young Burmese women to Nelson to start a new life. The women, cousins both in their 20s, belong to the Karen ethnic indigenous group that has been persecuted and harassed by Burma’s military government for decades.

“They have spent their lives behind barbed wire in a refugee camp on the Burma-Thailand border,” says Randy Janzen, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Refugee Committee. “They are people without citizenship. It is illegal for them to leave the refugee camp because they are not recognized as Burmese or Thai.”

How to work a microwave

The Canadian government has already approved their formal refugee status, but the date of their arrival is unknown. It could be this summer, Janzen says. At that point local volunteers will spring into action, helping the women with their English, getting them used to living in the apartment the committee has found for them, “and just giving them a general orientation to life in Canada, from how to work a microwave to banking to bus schedules.”

Support in Nelson for a year

The Committee’s goal is to support them for a year. “We are trying to raise $24,000 for their first year,” says Janzen. “We don’t have to have all that by when they come, but we have raised $14,000 so far. So we are certainly in a fine place for when they get here.”

Fundraiser fashion show

The group has organized Fashion Making a Difference, a spring active-wear fashion show at Finley’s as a fundraiser on March 23 with a number of  stores in Nelson participating including Esprit de la Femme, Gerick’s, Ripping Giraffe, Rivers/Oceans/Mountains, Sacred Ride, Streetclothes Named Desire, and Valhalla Pure.

The evening gets underway at 8pm and will be hosted by Ed Natyshak. Admission is $10 at Otter Books, or $15 at the door.

Why do this?

“Research shows that when there is less disparity in a society,” says Janzen, “not only are the poor people healthier and happier, but the rest of us are too. This includes safety, life expectancy, many of those kinds of indicators.”

Janzen says projects like this are a contribution to reduction of disparities on a global level. “There are 25 million refugees in the world and about 15 million people with no citizenship. It behoves us to make the world more just. This project is one way to work toward that—acting globally on a local level.”

There are currently Burmese refugees getting settled in Kimberley and Cranbrook, under the guidance of the East Kootenay Friends of Burma, with which the local group is affiliated. Also, a Burmese family will be sponsored to live in Rossland later this year.

A success story from 2003

A similar group in Nelson brought a family of refugees—a mother and two teenagers—from Colombia to Nelson in 2003.  Janzen was involved in that group. “It was very successful,” he says. “They have become integrated into Canadian society, they have jobs, they have relationships, and they live independently. “

A snapshot of the two future Nelson residents

Htoo Paw, in her late 20s, was born in Burma. Her village was burned in 2000. She has been living in a refugee camp ever since. She has a good level of education, having completed high school and a special personal development course that taught English, computer literacy, and life skills. Her work experience includes teaching, childcare, care for the elderly and care for individuals with special needs.

Hsa Moo was born and raised in the camp more than 25 years ago. She is vice-president and programmer for the Karen Student Networking Group, is the producer of Radio Free Asia in Mae La Oo Refugee Camp and is working as a social worker in her camp village. Hsa Moo has completed high school and a leadership and management course, and has recently received a diploma from the Australia Catholic University. 


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