Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Washington Family Reunited

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar has been in political and economic turmoil for decades. Formerly known as Burma, the country had been under military rule until the beginning of 2011.

In 2008, Aum Phe attempted to smuggle his family out of the country, to escape religious persecution. Though he and his wife were able to get out of the country, Thailand border agents discovered the van transporting their five children and sent them back to Myanmar.
Since their separation, Aum and his wife, Shwe Pai, have been living in Washington state where he had, at least, found peace tending his backyard garden.
All of that changed on the night of Tuesday, July 18th when the couple’s children landed at the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco, Washington. The children were greeted with hugs, strawberries, and bottles of Sprite and Coca Cola.
The two boys and three girls range in age from 7 to 16 years old. Om Phe, the oldest son, is now nearly as tall as his father. Speaking through a translator, Aum Phe, thanked everyone who made the reunion possible.
Before escaping, Aum Phe had to work for years to save enough money to get his family out of the country. He worked in India and Malaysia, taking whatever work he could find, including working for a pig farmer, where he slept in a field inside a makeshift tent made of newspapers and plastic tarps while earning little to no money.
When his children were prevented from fleeing the country, he had to bribe border agents to learn where they were and again to buy the release of his children, so they could return to their uncle’s farm.
Fortunately, Aum Phe’s story is uncommon with fewer than 6 percent of families becoming separated during their relocation, according to World Relief. The process to reunite the family took years of paperwork, an immigration attorney, DNA relationship testing, and a lot of worrying.
Over the years, the Phe’s sent money to Myanmar for their children to rent a home and for the two oldest to go to school and take English lessons. Now they look forward to sending all their children to school, and if all goes as planned, Aum wants to send Om Phe, 16, to college, and maybe take classes himself. □

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