Freeland says Canada working to play a leadership role in Rohingya crisis

Canada’s top diplomat says her trip to Bangladesh shows Canada is establishing a leadership role in the Rohingya crisis, which has led hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees to flee neighbouring Myanmar.

Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says the trip is also giving her a chance to hear first-hand what people in refugee camps have to say.

Those are two of the recommendations laid out in a report on the ongoing Rohingya crisis by Bob Rae, Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar.

Rae’s report listed 17 recommendations for the Canadian government, including a larger humanitarian effort that would cost around $150 million a year and an “willingness to welcome refugees.”

Roughly 700,000 ethnic Rohingya people have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar since last year to escape what the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing.

Freeland made her comments Saturday from Dhaka, Bangladesh, where she has been meeting with government officials, aid groups and refugees on a four-day trip.

“We shared (Rae’s) report with many people here, and we plan to translate it both into Bengali and Rohingya so that people in Bangladesh and the Rohingya can read it in their own languages,” said Freeland.

“A number of (recommendations) we are already implementing, and my trip here … is one example of acting on Bob’s recommendation that Canada should be taking a leadership role.”

Freeland spent time in Bangladesh’s refugee camps, where she says she was able to hear what the Rohingya people had to say.

“The most valuable part of this trip is being able to talk to people who are being persecuted who are at the heart of this crisis,” said Freeland.

She added that the people had expressed “a desire for justice and accountability,” and the world needs to know exactly what is happening there.

When asked about any plans to take in refugees, Freeland said the Rohingya community in Canada has expressed a desire to be reunited with their family members who are in refugee camps.

“I think that is an issue we need to be looking at,” said Freeland.

“We can just imagine, if it were our brothers, sisters, uncles, who were in these dire straits, we would be desperate to bring them to join us in Canada.”

Anwar Arkani, a Rohingya refugee in Kitchener, Ont., said visiting the camps in Bangladesh is a great gesture from Freeland, and he believes it could help accomplish some of the recommendations from Rae’s report.

But Arkani, who’s a member of the Rohingya Association of Canada, which connects and supports Rohingya people living in Kitchener, said he wants to see more progress in terms of humanitarian action and funding.

“Canada hasn’t done concrete things yet,” said Arkani. “So far, everything is words on paper — I’d like to see hands on things.”

Arkani said the need for action is more dire than ever right now because of the approaching monsoon season.

“It is very urgent, and I’m very scared of the monsoon season,” said Arkani.

“If refugees are staying the way they are now, a lot of people will die in the monsoon, from disease, landslides, food shortage, floods — all sorts of things.”

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