Originally from Myanmar, the 41-year-old escaped the horrors of military rule in his home country in 2002 to flee — first to Thailand and then Malaysia — where he spent 14 years living a precarious existence before finally being accepted to Canada as a refugee.
“He was arrested in Myanmar, that’s why he had left,” said Joanne MacPherson, a Whitby resident and chair of the outreach committee at Westminster United Church, which is sponsoring Khan Thang’s resettlement.
“(From) what we’ve been able to gather, he and his mother had some kind of students at his house and because of that, the military came and arrested him so he was in jail for one week and his mother got him out. She told him he should leave because they were going to keep coming for him.”
Westminster is one of five local churches — the others are Brooklin United Church, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Durham, Kingsview United Church and Columbus United Church — that make up the Bridge to a New Home refugee sponsorship coalition. Last year, the coalition announced it was raising money in an effort to present the gift of life in Canada to a refugee family, leading up to the country’s 150th birthday in 2017.
MacPherson said that members decided from the outset that they would open their doors to anyone from any background or religious faith and beyond just Syrian refugees.
“Everybody was doing Syria and when we first got together and got a list from the United Church of Canada, it was 36 pages long of refugees that were ready to come here for years before anything happened with Syria.”