Refugees from Burma now call Kentucky home

America has always been a beacon for those escaping persecution. Since 1990, 92,000 refugees have fled the brutal regime in Burma to settle in the United States. CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reports on some who have made a new start in Kentucky.

A lot of folks think it's the best Thai restaurant in Louisville. As indicated by accolades on its wall, "Simply Thai" gets terrific press.

But the real story here is not the food:

"You were a physician in Burma," Doane asked Mahn Myint Saing in his kitchen, "but you run a restaurant here in the U.S. Was that difficult?

"It needs a little bit of adjustment," he said, "but, no it's not difficult."

In 1988, Dr. Saing found his clinic in the crossfire of a brutal government crackdown in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar -- persecuted, he said, because he's part of "the wrong" ethnic group.

"They shoot at the building - boom, Boom, boom, boom, boom! (making a gun gesture). Glass shattered."

"Your clinic was destroyed?" asked Doane.

"Totally destroyed," he said.

Saing took up arms against the government, but was eventually forced to flee with his family. "No human rights in Myanmar at all! No human rights." he said.

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In the conflict, thousands fled into neighboring Thailand. For 23 years, 150,000 people have been trapped -- unable to go home -- yet not permitted to leave the camps by the Thai government. The best hope is an offer from the U.S. government to immigrate.

That's what happened to 16-year-old Eh-Nay-Thaw, who spent 10 years in the camps before being resettled in Kentucky.

"When your mother tells you about those times, what does she tell you? Doane asked.

"Horrible stuff. Our house was burned. The only thing you see was ash -- they destroy everything."

Eh-Nay-Thaw is among several hundred refugees from Burma who have been embraced by Crescent Hill Baptist Church. Officially resettled as refugees, they come here with full legal status: Welcome to work, welcome to go to school, welcome to stay.

"God has sent a miracle for us and we have a chance to come here, which is good," said Eh-Nay-Thaw.

Groups like Kentucky Refugee Ministries provide support with English classes, assistance with government paperwork, and job placement.

Having started as a dishwasher, Dr. Saing is something of a legend among the refugees.

"America is not perfect," he said. "But in my mindset, it's the best place, bar none. The best place to live in this world"

While they've lost their homeland -- in Kentucky, they've found a home.

For more information, visit:

Kentucky Refugee Ministries: www.kyrm.org
International Rescue Committee: www.rescue.org
Crescent Hill Baptist Church: www.chbcky.org

  • Seth Doane

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