HAGERSTOWN – William Sang fled his country because the military government continuously threatened to arrest him for his pro-democracy connections.
Sang, a Burmese refugee, thought he had found salvation through a resettlement group, but the community’s negative reaction to the presence of refugees forced the Virginia Council of Churches to announce it would shut down its Hagerstown office at the end of September.
Now, after living in Maryland for two months, Sang and his family must find their way in a potentially unfriendly environment without the help of the council.
“When you look at the things some of these people have dealt with in their home countries, some of the things that have gone on here are probably minor,” by comparison, said Dave Jordan, executive director of the Washington County Community Action Council.
Sang experienced far worse treatment in Burma, where the ruling military junta recently renewed its crackdown on pro-democracy protests led by unarmed monks. The government has reported 10 deaths in connection with the protests, and more than 3,000 have been arrested, including hundreds of monks. The United Nations and others have said they fear that many more people have been killed and arrested.
The Bush administration announced new sanctions against Burma Friday, saying the military government there has failed to heed calls to cease the repression.
Sang fled Burma a few years after a similar 1988 peaceful uprising to promote democracy resulted in the military killing thousands of people. Sang’s father was a rebel and his mother was arrested and accused of sewing rebel uniforms.
He was forced to sign forms that he and his mother would not have anything to do with the rebel faction, which meant no contact with his father.
Sang escaped to Malaysia and lived there illegally for several years before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees allowed him and his wife Sui Dim, also a Burmese refugee, to apply for refugee status in 2003.
Now, he and his family are grateful to be in the United States, especially given the circumstances in Burma and the recent birth of their daughter, Grace.
“We are happy we have a freedom of life,” Sang said. “We feel good because we can see a future.”