June 23, 2024

Conflict in Myanmar reaches Garden City immigrants

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (AP) — A conflict across the world in Myanmar has reached into a refugee center that for years has helped immigrants who arrive in Garden City to find jobs.

Workers at the LiveWell Finney County’s Neighborhood Learning Center say they have noticed tension between predominantly Muslim ethnic Rohingya and the Buddhist Buddhists who all fled from Myanmar during upheaval there, The Kansas News Service reported .

More than 700,000 ethnic Rohingya have fled from Myanmar since August 2017, the country’s military launched a purge of Rohingya, an ethnic minority of mostly Muslims and some Hindus in the predominantly Buddhist Burmese country.

“The Rohingyas … were just really upset about the situation at home. And then also not that comfortable being around Burmese,” said Birgit Lemke, the program coordinator for LiveWell Finney County. “The Rohingyas just didn’t come to class anymore.”

It is a change for the center, which has served refugees who have arrived in Garden City for decades to work at the region’s meatpacking plants. The city includes several immigrant communities that offer refugees a connection to their homelands of Southeast Asia, Eastern Africa and Central America.

Khaing Pyi, 24, a community health worker at the Neighborhood Learning Center, fled a refugee camp in Thailand and arrived in Garden City after her family came to the U.S. in 2011. She considers herself ethnically Burmese.

“With the Rohingya people, we try our best to help them,” Pyi said. “They have family back home and me, of course, you’re going to feel bad or, you know, because of what happened back home.”

Numan Mohammed, 26, is Rohingya and continues to study at the center while working as a meat cutter at a Tyson plant.

“I like school and work,” said Mohammed, who said both are hard but necessary because he needs the money.

All refugees who attend the center might soon have nowhere to go. The grant funding the center expires at the end of June, and the organization hasn’t been granted new funding.

Callie Dyer, executive director of Livewell Finney County, says people who arrived in Garden City when the center opened six years ago still go there.

“It’s a place where people feel safe, and they trust the individuals that are there to help them,” Dyer said. “But we also are a place where other organizations in town dovetail, come in and let the residents know of what they’re doing.”