AP NEWS

Muskogee couple raising money to assist Myanmar refugees

May 13, 2019

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) — Myanmar native Yuree Lembke recalls seeing the sky through holes in her roof.

“It is not a good condition at all,” said Lembke, 27, who spent 17 years in refugee camps along the Myanmar/Thailand border. She and her family, members of Myanmar’s Karen ethnic group moved into camps when she was 3.

Lembke and her husband, assistant Bacone Chapel Pastor Eric Lembke, seek to help other refugees in her native country, the Muskogee Phoenix reported.

The two are raising money for a May mission trip to the Ei Tu Hta refugee camp on Myanmar’s border with Thailand. Yuree Lembke said she started making beadwork jewelry about five months ago to raise money for the Burmese mission. However, she said she has only a few pieces left.

The Lembkes plan to spend three weeks helping the refugees.

“There are more than 3,000 people living in this camp,” Eric Lembke said. “The camp is so big, they built another extension up the river, so there are a lot of people in need.”

The refugees need basic things like food, rice, cooking oil, medical supplies, medication, first aid kits, school supplies, he said.

Lembke said aid to Myanmar refugees has been cut.

“When we get there, we will be buying these items,” he said. “We have friends who will help us truck them there, it’s a two-hour boat ride, so we’ll have to hire people to get out there.”

He said they hope to raise $6,000 to help the refugees. So far, they have raised half that much.

“Yuree’s uncle has been working with the leader of the refugee camp we’re going to,” Eric Lembke said. “He’s brought groups in.”

Yuree Lembke recalled the turmoil that drove her family to seek refuge. She said the conflict has been going on against the Karen and other ethnic groups for 70 years.

According to Wikipedia, Karen nationalists have been fighting for an independent state since 1949.

“We lived in Karen state in Myanmar,” she said. “Burmese military came into the land, killing and raping and chasing the Karen people out of their home, and burn their houses down. We had to run. We can’t stay, so we run to Thailand. We can’t go into Thailand, so we stopped at Myanmar/Thailand border.”

Lembke said she moved around to several refugee camps while growing up. She stayed at one camp for six years.

She recalled the camp as a very depressed place. Her house was made of bamboo with a roof made of big leaves, woven in one line.

“The people in refugee camps don’t have any rights to go out of the camp,” she said. “They can only stay inside. They don’t have any jobs or school.”

She said camps rely on outsiders for aid.

“When people have no freedom to travel in and out of the refugee camp, they have no way to go and work and make money,” she said. “They get stuck in the camp.”

She said that while some family members still live in refugee camps, others resettled to Thailand or the United States.

“There is no way we can go back now, because it is not safe,” she said. “Burmese military put land mines in the Karen home area.”

Eric Lembke said another ethnic group, the Rohingya, are now being forced into Bangladesh camps.

He said that as many as 30 Myanmar refugees have come to Bacone over the past few years.

“Many finished and graduated,” he said. “We had a lot graduate last year, maybe 14.”

He said there are about five Burmese students at Bacone.

Yuree Lembke said she came to the United States in 2012. She recently completed earning a degree at Bacone. She was among 63 students set to graduate.

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Information from: Muskogee Phoenix, http://www.muskogeephoenix.com