How Canada can help flee­ing Ro­hingya

Northumberland Today - - OPINION -

It’s hard to square the out­pour­ing of sym­pa­thy Cana­di­ans have shown for Syrian refugees with their seem­ing ap­a­thy in the case of Myan­mar’s Ro­hingya. In re­cent weeks, around 300,000 of them have fled their homes in the state of Rakhine.

Yet there are sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween both crises. Just as Syrian refugees chanced cross­ing the Mediter­ranean, Ro­hingya have been scram­bling aboard boats to get to Bangladesh, and many, mostly women and chil­dren, have died.

There have been har­row­ing tales of abuse by Myan­mar’s se­cu­rity forces. Vil­lagers from Tula Toli told of ba­bies tossed into the river to drown; a man spoke of find­ing his grand­mother de­cap­i­tated. Vil­lages have been torched, and there are al­le­ga­tions that se­cu­rity forces have burned peo­ple alive in­side their huts. Farida Deif, the Canada di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch, says this has all the hall­marks of eth­nic cleans­ing: the sys­tem­atic killing or re­moval of a cer­tain group from a ter­ri­tory.

Canada could do some­thing about the Ro­hingya, a state­less Mus­lim mi­nor­ity, just as it showed lead­er­ship with the Syr­i­ans. We could be an in­ter­na­tional leader in of­fer­ing refugee status to some of those who’ve fled their homes and want to live in peace in Canada. Even if the num­bers were only sym­bolic — a few thou­sand, say — it would be a call to ac­tion. If Canada is step­ping up, surely other na­tions can do so.

Hu­man Rights Watch also wants Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau to press Myan­mar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to al­low hu­man­i­tar­ian aid into the Ro­hingya area, stop the mil­i­tary cam­paign and al­low in a UN factfind­ing mis­sion.

Few refugees from Myan­mar are in Canada, given the hard­ship of get­ting here. Be­cause of such lo­gis­tics, “I think Canada should be re­ally study­ing very care­fully the asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions that are com­ing from (Myan­mar) and ex­pe­dit­ing them,” says Deif.

Ac­cept­ing refugees isn’t a sim­ple process. While the Ro­hingya in gen­eral are per­se­cuted, some are also part of Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army, a vi­o­lent in­sur­gent group.

But Canada is used to deal­ing with com­plex refugee sit­u­a­tions; we’ve moved nim­bly to help cer­tain groups. Yazidi refugees were brought to Canada to es­cape the rav­ages of ISIL. And we’ve been run­ning a se­cret refugee op­er­a­tion to get per­se­cuted LGBTQ peo­ple out of Chech­nya.

Canada’s path is clear. Push for re­forms in Myan­mar, yes, be­cause that’s the only long-term so­lu­tion. But also of­fer new, safe homes in Canada.

Par­lia­ment re­turns to work Mon­day; let’s get it done.

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