The U.S. State Department has stopped accepting resettlement applications from Burmese refugees living in nine camps in Thailand.
The leader of the local Burmese Advocacy Center fears the decision could put at risk ongoing efforts to reunite refugees with their families living in Fort Wayne, which is home to more than 4,000 Burmese.
"I wish that there is still a hope for ongoing family reunification process," Minn Myint Nan Tin said Thursday in an email.
She said two people recently asked the center for help in bringing family members to the United States from Thai refugee camps. In one case, a city woman said three of her sons have been in a refugee camp for the past six years.
A State Department spokeswoman said resettlements will not stop just because applications have been halted.
"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," Christine Getzler Vaughan, public affairs officer for State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said in an email.
The Jan..24 end to the applications came as no surprise. A year ago, the State Department began issuing deadlines 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.
Vaughan said the State Department also will consider resettling Burmese "with specific protection needs" who are referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Burmese had for decades been fleeing oppressive military rule in Myanmar, a Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma. Democratic reforms there in recent years have sparked expectations that many expatriates might return eventually.
Catholic Charities of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese has been resettling Burmese refugees to northern Indiana for the past 20.years. Vaughan said the State Department has approved relocating as many as 170 refugees to the Fort Wayne area during fiscal 2014, the same number as in fiscal 2013. Most are expected to be Burmese, she said, with as many as 35 African refugees coming here.
"With our robust resettlement program, the number of eligible Burmese refugees has been reduced significantly, and not all Burmese who are eligible for resettlement consideration are interested in permanent resettlement to the United States," Vaughan said.
The U.N. estimates that 120,000 Burmese 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.