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Caceelia Moe




Caceelia Moe was born in Chumphon, Thailand, in 1991. Her family moved to Mawker refugee camp in 1992 and Maneeloy refugee camp in 1999. Her family was resettled to St. Paul, Minnesota in 2001.




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Hi, my name is Caceelia Moe and my immigration story starts way before I was even born, with the longest ongoing civil war in Myanmar, or as my people call it, Burma. I am Karen, one of Burma’s largest ethnic minorities who have been facing persecution from the Burmese government since 1948. My parents were living in Burma near the Thai border, traveling in and out of the country. I was born in Chumphon, Thailand in 1991 and to escape the persecution, we moved to Thailand in 1992, to Mawker, a refugee camp home to about 8,400 Karen refugees, near the border in Thailand. All my siblings, except the one born in the U.S, were born in Mawker. Growing up, I was unaware that Mawker was a refugee camp. We lived our lives peacefully there. My sister and I attended school and my mom worked in the fields.
One night in March of 1998 the camp was attacked by a combined DKBA/SPDC force. Mortars and grenades were fired, houses were burned, and people were severely injured. Memories of that night will never be forgotten. Dragged by my aunt, I was running barefoot in a creek toward the forest. I was scared and didn’t understand what was going on. I wondered where my mother was and where my other siblings were. I felt relieved when we found the rest of the family. That night was very cold but only small fires were built to avoid detection.
After that night, my family went to stay with my mother’s sister in Klee Thoo Klo, a village in Mae Sot, Thailand until we moved to Maneeloy refugee camp in November of 1999. Mawker and Maneeloy were both run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
I was aware that Maneeloy was a refugee camp because we were fenced in and could only go out of the camp on Saturday mornings for the flea market. There were about 2000 refugees living there. As a child, I had no worries. I attended school and made many friends in the camp. My father’s side of the family were also living in the camp. Soon, they left for the United States. My family was the last on my father’s side to leave the camp. Our destination was Saint Paul, Minnesota because my father’s side of the family were already settling there.
We loaded onto a Songthaew, a truck converted into a two-bench taxi and left the camp the night of April 1st 2001. We stayed in Bangkok for 3 days for physical check ups and immunization before we boarded onto our plane to the U.S. This was the first time any of us had been on a plane. My memory of the plane ride was my sister throwing up and my nose bleeding every time the plane took off or landed due to the air pressure. Our first stop was Tokyo, Japan. From Tokyo, we flew to Los Angeles, landing in our first city in the U.S. Then from Los Angeles, we flew to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, our last stop. Throughout this journey, we guarded with our lives this white IOM bag as it holds important documents. There, we were met by my father’s side of the family. For the first few months, my family stayed in the basement of First Baptist Church of Saint Paul until we got an apartment. During that time, my sister and I stayed with our grandparents to catch the bus to school. We learned the new language in school. It took some time to get used to the new life but we can call this new place home. Refugee camps were not permanent homes and they did not assure us our security so we’re very lucky to make it in the United States and be reunited with our family.