SPECIAL REPORT: How refugees came from Burma to Nacogdoches

By Donna McCollum - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - When news broke Burmese refugees would be working and living in Nacogdoches, maps were brought out.

"The country of Burma. If you would look at the You Tube, you could find all sorts of things about Burma," suggested school superintendent Dr. Rodney Hutto, at a community meeting to discuss plans for the new arrivals.

You would find, Burma is now the South East Asian country of Myanmar. The United States still calls it Burma out of respect for democratically-elected leaders up against a repressive military government.

"The military junta retaliated by arresting, beating and even torturing demonstrators. Demonstrator leaders were given 20 years prison sentences to the country's most notorious prison," said a narrator on a video furnished by The Burma Connection, a non profit agency that helps refugees. (www.theburmaconnection.org)

The political unrest sent thousands to refugee camps along the Thailand-Burma border.

Beh Reh, now a Pilgrim's Pride employee, spent his teen years in such a camp.

"I been living in a refugee camp for more than 9 years, almost 10 years before I got here," said Reh, 23, now a liaison for arriving refugees.

The camps are overcrowded. Makeshift huts lead to unsanitary conditions. Often there's no running water and no electricity.

"Only food over there and very, very low education. So, yeah, very hard for everybody," shared Reh.

So, many attempt to seek a new life in America.

"I'm a welfare refugee who came here four, almost 5 years ago. Around July 26 I got here with my big family. Ten people in my families," said Reh.

The people from Burma are the fastest growing refugee population in the United States. Last year, the U.S. Accepted almost 16,700 refugees from Burma, according to data from the U.S. State Department.

In Texas, many Burmese arrive in Houston where resettlement organizations help with the transition to living in America. Most are placed with Korean foster families. Eventually, employment is introduced.

And 'Diversifying a Workforce With Burmese workers' is happening now at Pilgrim's Pride in Nacogdoches, a place on the map very far from their native homeland.

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