Refugee camps are supposed to be temporary homes—safe places to wait for the dangers at home to subside or, if that hope fades, portals to new lands where persecuted people can resume their lives and find new opportunities. But for Bee, a native of Myanmar, two refugee camps in Thailand were practically the only homes he knew before coming to the United States a little over a year ago.
Bee was just 8 when he, his parents and six siblings, members of the Karen ethnic group, fled Myanmar. Tens of thousands of Karen people have left their homes in Myanmar, seeking safety in Thailand over the past three decades. Bee’s family spent most of the next 10 years at Thailand’s largest refugee camp at Mae Ra Moe, a sprawling network of huts carved out of the jungle that currently provides shelter for 18,000 people. There, Bee went to school, played soccer and hunted squirrels with a slingshot.
Bee, now 20, likes helping others. In his camp, he was selected to help haul beans and rice—a huge responsibility in a place where food is scarce. When he bagged a squirrel—or even a deer—he’d share that food with neighbors. Now that he’s living in Rochester with an older brother, he’s anxious to improve his English, land a job and earn enough money to visit his parents. Bee says that their fear of flying will prevent them from joining him in the US, but he is ready to make a new, permanent home here.