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Becoming American: Burmese family celebrate citizenship

Facing political repression in their home country of Burma, Ma’s parents were forced to flee to safety in Thailand when she was just four years old. After being granted refugee status they were admitted to the Mae La refugee camp and were among the first families to settle in the area, which was far removed from Thailand’s towns and cities. Over the 10 years she lived there as a young girl, Ma witnessed many atrocities against her family and other refugees; she explained, “There was strong resistance from the Thai government to accept refugees in the area. At the beginning when the police came to our camp, we used to make a hole in the ground and hide ourselves, but one day they came in the middle of the night and burned the houses and belongings of the refugees.”

Ma outside her home in Atlanta.
Ma outside her home in Atlanta. Photo: IRC Atlanta

Eventually, the UNHCR stepped in and moved Ma’s family – along with many others – to a new camp which was just as isolated as the first one. The Umpiem Mai refugee camp would be Ma’s home for the next 11 years – the rest of her teens and into her twenties. It was in this camp that Ma met her husband Kyaw, gave birth to their first two children and – after a lifetime of waiting – finally received the news that she would be given the chance to start her life over in the United States.

Ma’s refugee journey began when she was just a toddler, and ended in her mid-twenties, as a wife and mother. After living most of their lives in refugee camps, Ma and Kyaw were welcomed to the U.S. by Catholic Charities Atlanta back in 2008 and given the opportunity to build a better life for their children in a new home, free from harm.

Now, after 10 years living in Atlanta, Ma, her husband and their children are celebrating becoming American citizens after receiving assistance with their application from the IRC in Atlanta’s Immigration team. “I decided to apply for citizenship in April, 2017 and I heard about the IRC from friends,” said Ma. “The Immigration team were very professional and helpful. They followed up with my application until I became a U.S. citizen and they even called to congratulate me after I attended my oath ceremony!”

Ma is currently a stay-at-home mom and enjoys taking care of her family. “Now that I am a citizen,” she said, “I feel safe to work and live in the United States. I also have the freedom to travel without any problem. I would really like to thank the IRC team for their genuine help!”

To learn more about the work of the IRC in Atlanta and for information on how you can get involved with the IRC as a donor or volunteer, please contact Development Manager, Kalie Lasiter, at Kalie.Lasiter [at] Rescue.org or 678-636-8941.

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