How Canada can help fleeing Rohingya
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.