I am a Zomi from Myanmar [formally Burma]. Zomi is one of the minority groups in Myanmar. I fled my country in 2006 due to political oppression and persecution of the Christian minority. My brother was arrested in 1998 without any reason while he was in college. This began a nightmare for my family that would last many years.
My brother was released after six years of false imprisonment. Upon his release, he fled the country. The authorities tried to hunt him down; if found, he faced life in prison. As his siblings, we had no choice but to follow in his footsteps. We fled the country as soon as we were able.
After arriving in Malaysia, we stayed in a jungle refugee camp for two years. Unfortunately, in 2008, I was arrested for not having the proper legal documentation. I was deported to Thailand and had to pay a human trafficker $1,300 to return to the refugee camp in Malaysia.
In 2015, I was resettled in Portland, Oregon. I was welcomed with open arms, and now I am able to help others in my community. Even though refugees face culture shock, language barriers, and much more, we are committed to being part of our communities and integrating into the larger society. We have a desire to give for all that we have received.
Today, I am a father of three children. I am a community health worker and the leader for the Zomi Catholic Community in Portland. I volunteer at my children’s school and in my neighborhood; I also help to organize a Zomi refugee program. I was a client of Catholic Charities of Oregon and now serve on their board of directors.
Many hardworking refugees were once called strangers, but they are now your neighbors, friends and coworkers. Most refugees believed in a brighter future and sought that future in the United States. We are grateful for the opportunity to be here. We want you to guide us, teach us, and share your experiences with us, so that we can do the same for others.
When I came to the United States as a refugee, I received resettlement support and public assistance that helped me establish a new life. The financial assistance was wisely and meaningfully spent—it gave me hope, faith and the ability to live.
I hope this kind of support will continue for new refugee arrivals. It reminds me of Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” ▪