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Four years of separation. UNHCR helps families reunite - from Ban Don Yang refugee camp to Minnesota, USA.

Malee Yar, Ray Smar Paw and Ell Phar meet again after 4 years of separation


Kanchanaburi, Thailand, April 3, 2015 (UNHCR) – Malee Yar and Ell Phar were refugees in Ban Don Yan refugee camp in Thailand. After four years of separation, they have recently reunited in Minnesota, United Stated of America with the help of UNHCR through its resettlement and family reunification activities.

The family is a fundamental unit of any society and refugee families are entitled to the international protection. UNHCR protects refugee’s right to unite with their family.  Malee Yar and Ell Phar’s family is one of over thousands families that UNHCR has successfully reunited.

Ell Phar and Malee didn’t flee the armed conflict from their hometown at the same time. They met and married in the camp. Ell Phar already received his refugee status. Malee came to the campafterward and remained unregistered which prevented her from being resettled with her beloved husband. The couple has one daughter named Ray Smar Paw, who had to be with her mother when the time of her dad’s resettlement to the US in November 2010.

Ell Phar did not want to leave us behind but I encouraged him to go. I thought he should have a chance and that he could build a life for himself and for us and that maybe, one day, we would come together again,” says Malee while recalling the day that her husband decided to apply for the UNHCR Resettlement Programme.

Resettlement has been the main durable solution available to the refugee population along the Thai-Myanmar border. For many, it is a chance to build a new life for themselves and their families in an environment unconfined by the boundaries of a refugee camp. Because unregistered residents are unable to resettle, many families like that of Malee and Ell Phar, comprised of both registered and unregistered individuals, have faced an extremely difficult decision – to split the family up in order to give registered family members a chance at a new life or to remain together in the camp where opportunities are limited and dreams remain unrealized.

 “It was a horrible day,” remembers Malee. “I didn’t walk him to the van. I said goodbye in our house and then stayed inside with Ray Smar Paw. I knew if I watched him drive away I would be unable to control my tears, which would make both my husband and my daughter sad,” explains Malee the hardest time of her family at the time of Ell Pha’s departuredate.

For four years that the young family had to leave separately and in a totally different world but they never gave up in reaching each other. Malee and Ray had to climb up the rocks and through the bush to the top of three tall hillsthree times a day to get a bar of signal on their phones so they could both hear his voice and see his face.

Since 2012, the Royal Thai Government and UNHCR worked together on a process by which families such as Malee’s could be protected. Unregistered family members of resettled refugees are identified by UNHCR and submitted to the Ministry of Interior for refugee status registration.

In December 2012, Malee Yar was registered as a refugee, and UNHCR together with the US Government supported them to reunite with their family on October 9th 2014.

“He picked up his daughter and the two of them just watched each other and smiled as we walked out of the airport”remembers Malee.

Present-day, Ell Phar has a job at a factory. Malee is attending an integration programme to help her adapt to her new surroundings and learn about life in the US. Ray Smar Paw has spent two weeks in kindergarten and is already making friends and has been embraced by her teacher.

There are an estimated 110,000 Myanmar refugees remaining in the nine camps in Thailand, including more than 40,000 not registered by the Thai authorities. The UN refugee agency has been working for years to secure a range of options and solutions for the refugees. To date, close to 1,500 split families have been given a chance to reunite with supported by UNHCR.