Local Rohingya calling on Canada to help end violence
KITCHENER — The constant news cycle saddens Nur Hasim.
Nearly 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled brutal violence in Myanmar in recent weeks and all the local Rohingya man can do is watch helplessly.
“It’s very sad news to hear every day,” he says. “It keeps getting worse. In the future it will not get better.”
Some of Hasim’s relatives, including an aunt, niece, nephew and cousin, were among those who abandoned their homes to cross the border to safety in Bangladesh.
The local Rohingya advocate wants the Canadian government and international community to put pressure on Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, to end the violence.
“Our freedom has been stripped. It’s impossible for us to live side by side with the Burmese, until we have our human rights.”
On Friday, the federal government announced another $2.55 million in humanitarian aid, increasing to $9.18 million Canada’s contribution to help the Rohingya this year.
“Canada remains deeply concerned about the violence in Rakhine State and the displacement of more than 375,000 people into Bangladesh since late August,” Canada’s Minister of International Development, Marie-Claude Bibeau, said in a statement Friday. “The support Canada is announcing today will help partners provide life-saving assistance to people fleeing violence.
“We also urge the authorities in Myanmar to take measures to protect all civilians from the ongoing violence, and we call for the full, unimpeded resumption of humanitarian assistance activities for UN and international humanitarian organizations in Myanmar.”
While aid is helpful, Hasim said political and economic pressure is needed to win fair treatment and end the violence. He wants the Rohingya to get
equal rights and citizenship.
This latest round of violence began on Aug. 25, but it isn’t anything new for the Muslim minority, who mostly live in the northern Rakhine State of Myanmar. They have been denied basic rights and citizenship since the 1960s.
Hasim can attest to that as a living survivor of what he calls ethnic cleansing. He left Myanmar as a teenager in 1991 to escape forced labour. Hasim said military officials would round up young Rohingya men to carry their rations.
“I knew people who never came back. They were killed after they finished.”
So Hasim packed up his things and took refuge across the border in Bangladesh. There he met and married his wife and raised four children in a refugee camp until they arrived in Canada 11 years ago.
Now he is an interpreter and advocates for the Rohingya with his Kitchener-based group, Canadian Burmese Rohingya Organization. There are about 300 Rohingya living in Canada, with about 80 of them living in Waterloo Region.
Hasim is paying to distribute bags of rice to feed stranded refugees in Bangladesh. It’s all he can do for now, he says.
“The camps are full. There is no shelter, food or water.”
Photos from refugee camps at the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh show hordes of desperate people seeking resources. Many of them, like Hasim’s own relatives, trudged through rainy jungles and dangerous terrain, dodging militia to get to safety.
“Canada’s government should open its doors to take more refugees from Bangladesh to start a new life in Canada, like we did,” Hasim said.
“When we came to Canada, our life completely changed.”
The United Nations estimates that 40 per cent of Myanmar’s Rohingya population has fled the country since October last year.
“The situation is a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva earlier this week.
Myanmar has also refused access to human rights investigators so the current situation can’t even be properly assessed, he added.
Desperate Rohingya refugees wait for aid handouts of clothing and food on Friday in Tankhali, Bangladesh.