When Saw Min Min Thu (pictured above, second from right) was three years old, his parents fled as refugees from Burma to neighboring Malaysia. Unfortunately, due to the dangers involved in making this journey, they were unable to take Saw Min with them, so they made the difficult decision to leave their young son in the care of his grandparents. Mother Nan Say Tha Hlar Aung and father Saw Ae Htee Kung Aung (pictured above) did not see him again for eleven years.
Earlier this year, the family was reunited at Raleigh-Durham International after a seemingly never-ending wait. Saw Min – now 14 years old – has finally met his two younger siblings, ages 9 and 4 (pictured above) and is getting to know his mother and father again.
In 2011, Saw Min’s parents immigrated to the United States as refugees with their two youngest children, arriving first in Chicago and then at the Raleigh-Durham airport. Saw Min’s mother, Nan Say, said they could have come to the United States sooner, but they wanted to find a way to bring Saw Min with them, so they waited in Malaysia trying to add him to their case. Once they learned that it might be easier to apply for Saw Min to join them after arriving in the United States, they made the decision to immigrate.
They never stopped working for their family’s reunification. Nan Say and Saw Ae communicated with Saw Min by phone about twice a month from Malaysia, but they still missed him and worried about him, hoping he was not lonely or sad. Once they arrived in the United States, communication became even more difficult because of the distance, but they were glad to be finally working to bring him to the U.S.
In May 2012, CWS Durham began the process to assist Saw Min’s parents in filing the refuge family reunification application for him. After meeting with Immigration Services Coordinator Rebecca Schaeffer it took two months to gather together the relevant documents and evidence, including translating Saw Min’s birth certificate into English and getting sworn affidavits from two family friends. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approved the application in less than 30 days (a record for our office!) and the case was transferred to the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, Burma, for further processing. Saw Min was called in to be interviewed, complete a medical examination and undergo various background and security checks. “Overseas processing,” as this stage is called, is often where refugee family reunification cases experience the longest delays. This particular case, spanning a total of 18 months from application filing to Saw Min’s arrival, is about average. While some refugee family reunification cases have arrived as quickly as 9 months after application, others have remained pending for several years.
In late December 2013, the parents were excited to finally learn that Saw Min would be arriving in just a few short weeks! When mother Nan Say was asked how they prepared for his arrival, she quickly replied that they were always ready for him. She describes seeing her son again as both tearful and happy, with some sadness for all the years of missing him but much joy for the opportunity to be together as a family once again. Since his arrival, the family has spent time together eating and celebrating, with lots and lots of talking and catching up after 11 years apart. Saw Min says he is still adjusting to life in the United States, but is glad to be with his family once again.
Saw Min and his family wish to extend their support to other families who remain separated from each other. They hope that that these families will be reunited soon, with the help of CWS and others in the community. As Saw Min’s family is learning once again, being together with your family is one of the things that make life most fulfilling and CWS is honored to be part of this incredible process.
Rebecca Schaeffer, Immigration Services Coordinator, CWS Durham