Austin Refugee honored by Governor Walz

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(ABC 6 News) – More refugees are heading to the United States from Afghanistan. But they are not the first. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz recognized a very special woman from Austin last month, for being an outstanding refugee.

Her name is Maylary Htoo Apolo. She fled Myanmar, also known as Burma, and moved to Minnesota for better opportunities for her family. Before that, she lived in refugee camps in Thailand for 20 years.

Governor Tim Walz awarded Maylary Apolo the Outstanding Refugee Award for Civic Engagement. She was one of twelve this year to win the award. The governor and other state representatives awarded her for her work with helping refugees gain citizenship. Work she’s passionate about because she’s been through the citizenship process herself.

"Honestly, I tried to do it by myself and they rejected me because I forget something," Apolo said.

Maylary turned to the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. There, she met Sara Karki.

"Right from the beginning I knew she was highly competent in what she was doing," Karki said. "Sometimes we have a hard time reaching out to clients, but not with Maylary. They’ll show up at her house or her business or wherever."

Maylary started as an interpreter, but now she’s a legal assistant. So she can personally help other refugees become citizens.

"When I’m helping people like me, who came as a refugee and when they got their citizen and when they got their green card. When I saw their face…when they are happy I’m so happy," Apolo said.

When she became a citizen in 2015 she went back to Thailand and Burma to visit family.

"I’m really thirsty with my country. I love my country," Apolo said.

Now she can’t go back, and not just because of the pandemic. Every chance Maylary gets, she raises awareness about the ongoing violence in Burma.

"Right now family from Burma feel unsafe because of the military and now COVID," she said.

She has family trapped there, and she says the military will not allow them to leave.

Myanmar’s military seized control of the country back in February – sparking protests against the new government’s use of violence and force.

Maylary says that the crisis in Burma makes her want to help more refugees gain citizenship. She wants them to all have freedom and access to education.

Maylary’s friends and coworkers say that her work ethic is even more impressive because she’s also dealing with trauma that comes with the violence in Myanmar.

"I’ve been really impressed with how much she can do to help others when she has so much on her own mind," friend and former Austin Mayor Bonnie Rietz said.

She finds hope in helping refugees. In her family and friends. And a message from her parents:

"They encourage me to never give up," Apolo said.

A message she now passes on to other people going through difficult times.

"I told them that…Never give up."