FORT WAYNE, IND. — An advocate for Myanmar refugees in Fort Wayne says she’s worried that a change in U.S. policy will hurt efforts to reunite them with relatives living in the city.
Fort Wayne is home to more than 4,000 refugees from Myanmar — formerly known as Burma — making it host to one of the largest such communities in the country.
Burmese Advocacy Center leader Minn Myint Nan Tin said she’s concerned about the State Department’s decision to stop accepting resettlement applications from Myanmar refugees living in nine camps in Thailand.
“I wish that there is still a hope for ongoing family reunification process,” she said.
She said two people recently asked the center for help in bringing relatives to the United States, including a woman with three sons who’ve spent six years in refugee camps.
State Department spokeswoman Christine Getzler Vaughan said resettlements won’t stop just because applications have been halted.
Myanmar refugees began coming to Fort Wayne in 1993 to escape military rule in the southeast Asian country. The biggest waves came in 2007 and 2008, when Catholic Charities of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese resettled more than 1,400 refugees in the city.
The Jan. 24 end to the applications came after the State Department began issuing deadlines a year ago for refugees to decide whether they wanted to leave the Thai camps for the United States as part of a resettlement program that began in 2005.
“The resettlement program will continue until we have completed the processing of every application received by the deadline for each camp, and we expect that to happen over the next two years,” Vaughan said.
The State Department also will consider resettling people from Myanmar “with specific protection needs” who are referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, she said.
The State Department has approved relocating as many as 170 refugees to the Fort Wayne area during the 2014 fiscal year, the same number as the previous year, she said.
The U.N. estimates that 120,000 Myanmar refugees remain in camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. The U.N. reported this week that nearly 6,500 expressed interest in the past year in resettling to the U.S.