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By Connor Murphy Pacific Daily News

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (September 28, 2001 – Pacific Daily News)---A group of 41 Myanmar refugees left the island this week, leaving fewer than 100 here waiting for political asylum.

Since last year, close to 1,000 refugees traveled to Guam from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. They are seeking political asylum, claiming political and religious persecution by Myanmar's military dictatorship.

The refugees came to Guam on the island's visa waiver program, under which Myanmar citizens were allowed entry to Guam as tourists without a visa. The program was suspended in January, after local officials expressed concern that the influx of illegal immigrants could create a health-care disaster after some immigrants tested positive for tuberculosis contact, and others tested positive for HIV.

The refugees who left Wednesday recently received political asylum from the United States, said Sgt. Maj. Wayne Gillespie of the Salvation Army.

About 100 refugees remain on Guam, and their asylum applications are classified as "referred," which usually happens because of a problem on the application, Gillespie said.

"It does not mean their application was denied," he said.

It could be several more months before all Myanmar refugees leave the island, Gillespie said.

"They will begin trickling out as soon as their applications are approved," he said.

Gillespie said close to 50 people were on hand to say goodbye to the most recent group of departing refugees, who left on an early morning commercial flight to Honolulu. He said the refugees were looking forward to their new lives in the United States.

"They were very happy," he said. "But many of them have left friends on the island, so it's kind of bittersweet."

Many of the refugees stayed with local families while here, Gillespie said. Their stays were coordinated by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, through the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, a nonprofit group.

After the refugees arrived in Hawai‘i, they took flights to their new homes all over the United States. "Most of them will be joining friends or family, or someone they know," Gillespie said.

For additional reports from the Pacific Daily News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Pacific Daily News (Guam).

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