TORONTO: Refugee from Burma ends up working for the Karen community
From there to here: Burmese refugee loves Canada’s respect for human rights
For Mie Tha Lah, part of the persecuted Karen minority in Burma, Canada’s respect for human rights is one of his adopted home’s best features.
Mie Tha Lah, a 37-year-old refugee from Burma, now known as Myanmar, is a youth worker for the Jane/ Finch Community and Family Centre. When he arrived in Canada and saw the CN Tower he knew his dream for freedom was complete.
DEBRA BLACK / TORONTO STAR Order this photo
By: Debra Black Immigration Reporter, Published on Thu Jan 30 2014
More than 240,000 immigrants are expected to arrive in Canada this year. Many will settle in the GTA. For some, their dreams may take years to build. For others, those dreams may never materialize.
To explore that experience, the Star is publishing an occasional series in the words of newcomers, both recent and more established. If you would like to tell your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mie Tha Lah, a 37-year-old Burmese refugee, came to Canada in 2007 after the country’s doors were opened to members of the minority Karen community, who had been targeted by the government. Lah now works as a settlement worker with the Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre and is an accredited court interpreter.
Before coming to Canada with his wife, originally from the Philippines, his parents and siblings, he spent about 13 years in a refugee camp on the border between Thailand and Burma. While there, Lah received a scholarship to attend a Catholic university in the Philippines, where he studied education.
One of his sisters got a scholarship to study in Canada. And when Ottawa began offering sanctuary to the Karen from the country now known as Myanmar, she encouraged the family to come to Canada.
What did you think when you got here?
When I was at Pearson airport, it was so thrilling . . . we were coming along the Gardiner and I saw the CN Tower — the symbol of Canada. “Look at the CN Tower,” I said. “Is it a dream?” I wanted to pinch myself. Are we really in Canada, I wondered. It was a huge dream come true. . . . We’re in a country of freedom, a peaceful country; a very, very prosperous country; a country that respects human rights and individual talents.”
What was your first job?
During the first year, when a lot of Karen refugees came here, my skills were used by COSTI and ACCESS Alliance as a translator right away. I enrolled in COSTI’s Centre for Internationally Trained Professional and Trade People. They gave me some skills to look for a career in Canada. . . . Just before I was free from the government-assisted program (the) Jane and Finch Community Family Centre absorbed me to be their youth worker for the Karen community. And I have been working there ever since.
Have you experienced any discrimination?
Thankfully, personally I’ve never experienced this. It was my worry before I came here. . . . But looking at Toronto I don’t feel I’m out of place at all. Not a single moment. Even though I witnessed some of my fellow refugees were discriminated by others. . . . One time I assisted one of my fellow refugees (at the) Citizenship and Immigration Canada offices to apply for their registration, for applying for their SIN card and health card. I was so shocked. One of the officers said openly, “I don’t understand why my government brings in lots of refugees to this country.” . . . I was so offended. I said (to myself), this is the time I have to request: “What is your name, sir, and can I talk to your manager?” So I did the complaint.
What do you think is the best thing about being in Canada, Toronto?
Being in Toronto, it’s the beauty of multiculturalism, that everyone from different backgrounds comes together, stays harmoniously under the system set by the government and the country and the people, and then they can (work) for the prosperity of their family and their nation. It’s so beautiful. And you enjoy your rights. You’re not persecuted. And you are totally protected by the Charter of Rights and the Constitution.”
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