Saturday, April 14, 2007


KAREN REFUGEES WELCOMED EN MASSE Winnipeg: Joe Friesen: Globe & Mail: 12-09-06

Canada is a promised land of freedom and vanilla ice cream for Kayseng, a 57-year-old former teacher who arrived in Winnipeg with her family last month after 11 years in a refugee camp. Kayseng, her husband, Minnseng, and their three daughters were among the first of 810 people from the Mae La Oon camp in Northern Thailand to come to Canada under a new system for processing refugee applications. The change provides for the acceptance of large groups of displaced people en masse, which the government says will cut down on the time needed to assess applications and create a ready-made support network for new arrivals.

Yesterday, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Monte Solberg met with Kayseng and Minnseng, and their friends, Tunu and Shamlaw, who arrived last week with five young children. The two families are from Myanmar, formerly Burma, and were forced from their homes in 1995 after the ruling military junta attacked members of the Karen ethnic group. Although the mere mention of politics makes her apprehensive, Kayseng wasted no time presenting her agenda to Mr. Solberg. She asked whether it would be possible to have her sister, who is one of more than 13,000 people still in the refugee camp, join her in Winnipeg.

Mr. Solberg looked around and motioned for an aide to intervene. The aide offered to take down the name of Kayseng's sister. Kayseng said afterward she was worried about asking her question. "I felt nervous because I am only from the grassroots. But I had to stick up for my sister," she said. "My sister called me and asked, 'How is life in Canada?' I said we have ice cream every day. She was very excited to join us."

Speaking to reporters later, Mr. Solberg was sympathetic. "People are coming from some very tough situations," he said. "We have to find the right balance between making sure we bring people in under family reunification but also having a stream for skilled workers as well. If you've got a finite number of people you bring in, that means that sometimes people are disappointed, particularly in the short term."

Twenty ethnic Karens settled in Saskatoon last month, and 100 more will arrive in Regina by mid-October. They follow earlier mass migrations of 780 Sudanese and Somalis from a refugee camp in Kenya, and about 1,000 Afghans from camps in Central Asia in 2004. Refugees who arrive under the new system are evaluated with the help of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Immigration officials could not say how many of the 810 Karens would be placed in the Prairie provinces. But Mr. Solberg said making sure they're well looked after is more important than achieving regional balance. "We want more people coming to the Prairies, obviously, but I think the first priority is to find a community equipped to handle them," he said.

Settlement workers say Kayseng and her family have adapted to life in Canada remarkably quickly, thanks in large part to the English they picked up from aid workers in the camp. Kayseng's two elder daughters are enrolled at the University of Winnipeg, studying social sciences; her third daughter is in high school. Shamlaw, 37, his wife Tunu and their children are adapting more slowly. On Sunday night, Kayseng found them cowering in the dark just after nightfall. Shamlaw explained that he had heard sirens and was afraid the police were coming to arrest them. He turned off the lights and told his family to hide. When he goes for walks, Shamlaw carries a piece of chalk to mark the trees along the route, which allows him to find his way back. He's startled by the different kinds of people on the street, black and white, aboriginal and Asian. The government has given him a loan of $11,000 -- the equivalent of six years of wages in Myanmar. He's never had a debt, and worries he will not be able to pay it back.

The 20 ethnic Karens in Saskatoon are settling well, said Ivanka Didjusto, supervisor for settlement at the Saskatoon Open Door Society. They've even learned enough of local real estate to ask why they can't live on the city's East side. But Ms. Didjusto said they are in a good neighbourhood on the West side. Joseph Garcea, a professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan, said the families have every chance of succeeding on the Prairies. Earlier refugee migrations, from Chile, Vietnam and Sudan have been able to integrate very well, he said.

Mae La Oon people reach Prince Edward Island _CBC

Mae La Oon people reach Prince Edward Island
Charlottetown: CBC, 13-09-06

Ten refugees from Burma are making Prince Edward Island their new home. The refugees are part of a group of more than 800 from the ethnic group Karen being accepted by Canada as part of an international resettlement.

The first of those refugees, 20-year-old Kerhtoo Pwaytha, will arrive at the Charlottetown airport Wednesday evening to start a new life in a new place. For the last decade, she was living in a camp in Thailand, along with thousands of other Karen refugees who have been driven from their homes by political strife and persecution.

John Barrett, director of operations with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, told CBC News that life has been difficult for the refugees. "It's been pretty horrendous over the last several years," he said. "One of the refugee camps that these folks are coming from is on the border, and it's subject to mudslides, landslides and even civil unrest within the refugee camp itself."

To make that transition from remote refugee camp to Western society, volunteers from the First Baptist Church in Charlottetown have offered their assistance. They've been working with new immigrants for years. Rev. Kathy Neely says they'll help the refugees with translation and negotiating day-to-day life. "Some of them have never seen running water, toilets, electricity, cellphones," says Neely. "They're just basically going to have to be taught life skills."

There are an estimated 140,000 refugees from Burma living in Thai camps, and Canada is just one of several Western countries accepting large groups of them. Nine more Karen refugees are expected on the Island in the coming weeks.


KARENS CONSIDER HAMILTON 'A GRAND CITY' Hamilton, ON, Spectator: 14-09-06His own life has been so fraught with difficulty and strife that Ler Moo Hsa never let an opportunity go by that might improve the fortunes of his wife and four youngsters. An orphan from the age of four, Hsa (pronounced "Saw") had to flee his native Burmese village as a young man when a major offensive was launched by the Burmese army, driving thousands of ethnic minority Karen people to refugee camps over the Thai border.A nursing student before winding up in the camp in 1995, Hsa landed a paying job as a nurse with a German aid agency working in the camp. He even took short-term training in addictions therapy and mental-health nursing when the opportunities arose. "I want my children to reach a higher position than me," Hsa, 34, said yesterday through an interpreter.Added Wah Lu, his wife, also 34, "Most of all, I want my children to grow up with a good education, to meet the level of the people here." The family includes daughters K'prue Lwe ("kuh-PROO loo-WAY"), 11, K'tray Say ("kuh-TRAY SAY"), 9, K'tray Soe ("SEW"), 6, and K'prue Soe, 4.They are the first of 100 Burmese refugees bound for Hamilton between now and next year. They're part of a group of 810 minority ethnic Karen people destined for points throughout Canada under a streamlined refugee relocation plan.The Karen, a mainly Christian minority in Buddhist Burma, were forced out of their homeland by the rul-ing military junta. Relocated to the refugee camp, they live on meagre rations and struggle to dodge infection by tuberculosis and malaria. Suicide is common.Although the camp had schools for the children, classes would be suspended any time there was trouble along the border, halting school for days or weeks at a time.Sporting a tiny maple leaf pin on his T-shirt, Hsa recalled how his mother died giving birth to his younger brother. Not long after, his father was taken from their village by rebel soldiers. Years later, he would learn from a doctor at the refugee camp that his father died of heart failure not long after.Paid employment is even more scarce in refugee camps than the rations. Hsa earned the equivalent of $9 a month. In the latter years, his salary rose to $42 per month. It was never enough to properly feed his family, but that didn't stop him from buying tea, milk and sugar for some of the patients he treated in hospital as well as meat for the camp's elderly and infirm.After a breakfast yesterday at Tim Hortons, the Hsa family was taken to Settlement and Integration Ser-vices Organization (SISO) to complete some paperwork, then shown around the downtown core by SISO counsellor Gordon Ajak.For the Hsas, tour highlights included practising pushing elevator buttons at the Arrival Inn, where they are staying, and mastering the difference between the "walk" and "don't walk" symbols on the street outside. It took K'prue Soe three tries but, clutching the plush tiger cat he was given when his family arrived in Steeltown, he eventually jumped the gap from the elevator to the main floor lobby. "Everything we've seen -- the buildings, the roads, the streets -- it's all so grand," said Wah Lu who had never seen a city before flying out of Bangkok this week. "But the most pleasurable has been to meet people here who are very generous and polite and helpful."The long journey to Hamilton* By road: The Burmese refugees travelled from a refugee camp near Mae Hong Son city in northern Thailand to Bangkok by vehicle, a journey of 14 hours.* By air: They travelled from Bangkok to Hong Kong, a three-hour flight.* By air: They travelled from Hong Kong to Toronto, a 15-hour flight* By road: They travelled from Toronto to Hamilton by bus, arriving at 1 a.m. yesterday.

Karen Community of Greater Vancouver_Press_Release

Karen Community of Greater Vancouver
Press ReleaseContact Person: Candy Marvel
March 19, 2007

On March 17, 2007, Karen community of Greater Vancouver, Canada, held a general meeting and election for the first time after a huge arrival of Karen newcomers from Mae La Oon Camp. The recently arrived Karens were genially welcomed to the meeting. The foremost aim of this meeting was to get the newcomers as well as existing members of the local community to come collectively with mutual effort in pursuing the affairs of the community. Representatives of newcomers and on hand members of the local community actively participated in the meeting.

To no surprise, the outcomes of the meeting were remarkably concluded. Delia, one of the Karen newcomers who has been selected as a joint secretary, said that it is very important to have our own community. She added that the transition of their newcomers' journey has been great and without the support of local-based community things would have been extremely devastating. Despite the fact that these Karen newcomers come from a very small community, all of them bring numerous skills and talents. In one-way or another, they were linked with Karen associations based in Burma-Thai borderline. Representatives of Karen newcomers particularly would like to thank Mahn Bee Duu, Mahn Aung Myat Thein, and many others for all their countless effort in making their lives more hopeful in the new country.

Central Executive Committee Members:
Chairperson: Mahn Aung Myat Thein
Vice-chairperson: Saw Baw Meh
Secretary: Mahn Bee Duu
Joint-secretary: Naw DeliaTreasurer: Saw Shee Moe
Auditor 1: Saw Meh
Auditor 2: Saw Say Kaw
Social affairs (Focus- employment and other enhanced skills)- Mahn Myo Thein, Mahn Min Tay
Women and children affairs: Naw Paw Th' Blay Htoo, Nan Dway
Youth affairs: Saw Htoo La Wah, Naw Esther Gay
Fundraising: Naw Lu Lu Thein, Saw Po Gay
Culture and Education: Naw Htoo Lay, Saw Lar May Htoo


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Ottawa Citizen: Karens learn to deal with freedom.

Tue 13 Mar 2007-->
The Ottawa Citizen: Karens learn to deal with freedom - Kate Heartfield Tue 13 Mar 2007 Filed under: News, International
When I ask the Karen refugees what they like about living in Ottawa, they say they like being free, that they like not having to deal with harassment from soldiers.It’s an obvious answer, but it hits me in the gut anyway. I expect them to say they like the stores or the washing machines or the snow. All that stuff is incidental to them. They don’t talk about the weather or shopping unless I ask. Even then, they’re unlikely to answer with much more than a smile.
They’ve only been here a few months. Their old life is still fresh: refugee camps in remote parts of Thailand, and before that, villages in Burma (officially Myanmar). Burma is ruled by a junta that persecutes the Karen people and other minorities.
The soldiers came and burned the villages; the refugees fled. There are about 140,000 refugees in those camps near the border. Many of them have been there almost 20 years.
The federal government recently resettled about 800 Karen refugees from those camps across Canada, almost 100 of which came to Ottawa. The government plans to bring about 1,850 more refugees from the camps to Canada over the next two years, starting in May. Some of them will come to Ottawa to join the little but rapidly growing Karen community.
Say Blue, a small woman with a sweet but serious face, spent 14 years in the camps, before she came to Ottawa with her husband, her 17-year-old daughter, Say Gay, and her nine-year-old son. In Burma, she had a farm. There were pigs and chickens. She grew rice, cucumbers and beans. That was before the soldiers came, burning the crops and putting holes in the cooking pots.
Now, Say Blue is learning to cook with an electric rice cooker on a countertop, instead of on a charcoal fire in a bamboo hut. Everything’s different in her life. She doesn’t know much yet about workplaces in Ottawa. She isn’t sure what kind of a job she might have. She’d like to have a place to grow vegetables. The first thing she says to me is that she’s very lucky because she isn’t on the run.
She’s finding English difficult to learn. All the recent Karen refugees spoke with me through an interpreter, Nimrod Andrew, a young Karen man who’s lived in Ottawa for a few years.
“We believe that as long as we have rice we will survive,” he jokes, as we talk to Say Blue about cooking in her new home.
Way Thaw was a businessman in his village. He traded in cows and produce. He tries not to think about the time when the soldiers burned his village. During his 15 years in the camps, he felt guilty because he was getting food without working for it. And he felt deeply the lack of freedom. Thailand does not allow the refugees to leave the camps, unless they’re being resettled to another country such as Canada.
He found the Ottawa February difficult because he has asthma. But he’s still happy to be here because there’s no war. There’s freedom. His children and grandchildren will have better lives and the chance to be hard-working people.
Colleen Scott, an Ottawa woman who’s spent time with the Karen in the camps, is helping the fledgling Karen community here. She’s been teaching them about bank machines and buses and helping them get to appointments. She says she learns as much from them as they do from her.
“It’s a terrifying journey, and an unbelievably brave thing that they are doing,” she says.
One of the challenges they’re facing, she says, is that many have never had chances to make decisions for themselves. Autonomy is unfamiliar. The young people, such as Say Gay, have known nothing but camps. They don’t even remember Burma.
Way Thaw’s son, Htoo Htoo, is also 17. Like Say Gay, he’s going to Woodroffe High School, learning English and a few other subjects. He’s been skating, on an expedition led by Ms. Scott, but he still hasn’t been to a movie. He enjoys playing guitar, basketball and soccer. He would like to be a doctor, although he’s embarrassed to say so.
In January, I wrote a column about the obstacles these Karen refugees might face in Ottawa. Ms. Scott says Ottawa’s reception of the newcomers hasn’t been perfect. Few people here have even heard of the Karen people, or know that they’re a distinct ethnic group within Burma. It’s still a struggle for people such as Ms. Scott and Mr. Andrew to help the refugees get around town and learn about their new home.
“It’s an overload situation, with a group of people nobody knows anything about,” says Ms. Scott, her frustration evident.
Nonetheless, I’m impressed with what this little community has accomplished so far. They’ve set up a school in the Karen language so the children won’t lose their heritage. The ability to understand English is starting to come, especially for the youth. Some are able to speak a little English, too.
I’m glad the pioneers, including Way Thaw and Say Blue and their families, will be here for the next group.
But there’s more the rest of us could do to make the transition easier for the Karen refugees. For example, aboriginal people in the Ottawa area might be able to talk with the Karen families about ways to maintain their cultural values of self-sufficiency and respect for nature in an urbanized society.
There are all kinds of possibilities. As the Karen people have reminded me, all possibilities begin with freedom. Everything else is secondary.
Kate Heartfield is a member of the Citizen’s editorial board.

Karen Community of Ottawa Press Release

March 26, 2007
Press Release
Ottawa – On March 24, 2007, the Karen Community of Ottawa – K.C.O. held a successful general meeting and election at the Bronson Centre. Fifty people including the Honourable Paul Dewar MP, City of Ottawa, Church Pastor, and agencies serving immigrants and youth attended the meeting.
The aim of the meeting was to introduce the agencies and supporters to the Karen newcomers, and to elect new Karen leaders to work for the Karen community in the future.
The MP, City Hall, and the agencies made presentations to the Karen newcomers in the first part of the meeting. The Karen then met to hold a general election.
To provide the newcomers with the opportunity to build and serve a community here, most of the elected positions were filled by the Karen new to Ottawa, with the support of the long term Karen residents. According to Blal Htoo "We want the Karen newcomers to take up the positions and we will be helping them." He also referred to the fact that most of the on hand community members were busy with their jobs.
"I am so glad to see the support from our MP, Councillor Diane Holme's office and other agencies. I felt stronger to continue working for our community development." said Lay Lay Nwe, one of the Karen community members. She continued, "The Karen newcomers are fortunate to have agencies that are helping them." Referring to her own situation when she landed here in 1994, she stated that she had to get help from a Vietnamese interpreter.
According to Law Doh Thaw, who arrived in Ottawa late last year and is the newly elected Chair, "A new community is like a young child in its beginning years. Even as children are growing up, they still need support." He thanked the agencies for their efforts and appealed for ongoing support to help the Karen Community.
The meeting was adjoined following a speech by the new Chair, a feeling of success and a strong resolve to move forward was apparent. It is the beginning of a new chapter for the Karen people in Ottawa.
The community would like to thank Centretown MP, the Honourable Paul Dewar, City of Ottawa Councillor Diane Holmes, Jeffrey Kaeys, Ottawa Community Immigrants Services Ottawa, Catholic Immigration Centre, Bromley Road Baptist Church, The Door – Youth Centre, friend and advisor, Coleen Scott, Volunteers Barbara Wright, and Sally Mooney.