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This Time They Killed My Father
Tha Phwee

The Immigrant Experience

Karen refugees from Burma, Tha Phwee and his family came to Syracuse with hopes of a better life and brighter future.

The Phwees are one of the many Burmese families who have come to Syracuse. More than 14,000 refugees have immigrated to Central New York as a result of leaving behind a dangerous military-controlled government that is in the middle of committing genocide against its people.
Tha Phwee was living in a refugee camp near the Burma and Thailand border before immigrating to Syracuse with his wife, Anna Nu, their daughter, Sunny Moon Flower, and son, Marvelous Joy. Phwee saw little opportunity for him and his family and decided to come to the United States.

[In Burma] “They do not have a future. They do not have many children,” Phwee said. “They are not educated. They do not know everything. They go into the forest everyday and hunt so they can eat.”
When he was 7, Burmese soldiers came to his village looking for Karen rebels. The Karen soldiers had entered their village to hide from the Burmese soldiers. Phwee’s father told them he did not know where the Karen soldiers had gone to hide. His father was approached and interrogated for information on the location of the rebel militia. The Burmese soldiers shot Phwee’s father in front of him to make an example.
Phwee and his family arrived in Syracuse in December of 2010. He came to Central New York looking to support his family and was able to find a job at Atlas Healthcare Linen Services in Syracuse. Of its many employees, 40 percent of Atlas’ staff are Burmese immigrants. Atlas is an industrial laundry facility that provides linen services to hospitals and nursing homes through the Northeastern United States.
Despite the improved conditions the Phwee family now has by living in the United States, each day is a struggle trying to adapt to American life.
“Some families, they live in America and they have a problem,” Phwee said. “They cannot speak English very well, so it is very hard looking for a job. Some jobs are very hard for them.”
As Burma’s government continues to persecute and murder its own people, living conditions remain difficult. Survival alone leaves little room for education and families. Luckily, some of the victimized in Burma have been fortunate enough to escape to refugee camps and migrate to the United States.

Aye Thidar-Montgomery is originally from Burma and has been living in the United States for most of her adult life. In her free time, she and her husband lead an outreach program through their church, which teaches families like the Phwees survival English. The group meets Tuesday nights with volunteers from North Syracuse Baptist Church.
“They have it very difficult in many ways,” Montgomery said. “In refugee schools they don’t have much money for the teachers. So a lot of people graduate with a little bit of education.”

Phwee hopes to one day return to Burma and visit the people he left behind. But for now, his greatest hope is to provide for his family.

Phwee has many dreams, including hopes of one day owning a car so his family can have a means of transportation. He also would like to attend an American school through Onondaga Community College. This may be a small goal for some, but for him, it’s part of achieving what he believes is the American Dream.