Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Area refugees' Olympics dilemma: Root for home countries or USA?

Even though Aung Kyaw Myint, a refugee from Burma, spent seven years in prison for his political views before escaping to Thailand, he’s still rooting for the Burmese athletes competing in the London Olympics, which officially start with today’s opening ceremonies.
His support for Burma is not because he has any loyalty to that country – it’s the people for whom he’s cheering.
“I have support for my own countrymen. They’re not the government,” Myint said. “American people, I like them, but they have enough support.”
Unlike most, refugees have complicated loyalties. Do you root for the country that exiled you, the country that hosted the refugee camp that took you in, or the United States, your new home?
“A lot of them have complicated situations,” said Rick Andrew, Utica district pastor of Redeemer Church and host of the Redeemer Cup, a two-day soccer tournament in Utica that brings out fleet-footed refugees to play.
“They’re from somewhere and they landed somewhere else.”
Myint was part of the Aug. 8, 1988, student uprising in Burma and served two jail sentences because of his activism.
The third time people in his village wanted to arrest him he bolted for Thailand. In Utica he works as a translator for Utica’s Burmese, and for the Multicultural Association of Medical Interpreters. He and his wife also make sushi during his day job at the Hannaford supermarket in New Hartford.
“I am not against the American people. I support American people, too. (The Burmese) are weak and American people are strong. I support people who are weaker,” Myint said.
Japheth Kafi, a Sudanese refugee and president of the Sudanese Friendship Association of New York, came to the United States more than a decade ago and will be cheering on the stars and stripes.
“I still love my old country, too,” he said. “But all my loyalty is to America. I promised that as an American citizen.”
Kafi, 47, fled Sudan after he was captured by government forces and imprisoned because he was part of the wrong tribe. He was working on his father’s farm when troops gunned down his parents and siblings. He was captured and abused in prison.
“They hit me; they slapped me,” Kafi said.
He escaped and fled to Egypt, eventually arriving in the United States. He eventually brought his two sons over from Sudan. His 12-year-old daughter Haibad, who he has never met, still is there. She’s being cared for by his mother-in-law, but Kafi is working to bring her to the United States.