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US is Destination for 50,000th Burmese Refugee

The U.N. refugee agency reports the 50,000th refugee from Burma has left a camp in Thailand to begin a new life in a new country. The UNHCR says the Burmese resettlement program is the largest in the world.

Resettlement from the nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border began in 2004. But the UNHCR says the program got an enormous boost in early 2005, when the United States offered to give new homes to refugees from the camps.

U.N. refugee spokesman William Spindler says the resettlement program passed a new milestone when the 50,000th Burmese refugee left camp in Thailand. The refugee and his family are headed to the United States.

"The man who was precisely the 50,000th person to depart is an ethnic-Karenni school teacher who had been in Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp in Mae Hong Son province in northern Thailand since 1996. He and his wife and two-year-old daughter left Bangkok this morning at the start of a 28-hour plane journey, their first time on a plane, that will bring them to their new home in Camden, New Jersey," he said.

Spindler says the man, who taught primary school in the camp, spoke optimistically about the opportunities in the United States for a good education for his daughter and for further education for himself and his wife.

The UNHCR notes refugees around the world prefer to return to their home country, but that often is not possible.

Spindler says the Burmese refugees have extremely limited options. He says most have been in Thailand for more than 20 years and see no prospect of going home any time soon. They also are unable to settle permanently in Thailand.

He says resettlement in a third country is the best solution for them. He says 11 industrialized countries have offered the refugees a chance to begin new lives. He says the bulk of Burmese refugees, more than 36,000, have gone to the United States.

The UNHCR reports an estimated 112,000 Burmese refugees remain in the nine border camps. The agency expects to resettle up to 7,000 more of them this year.