Right groups call on Bangladesh not to force Rohingya return to Myanmar

By Saifullah Muhammad

Toronto – Since the late 1970s, policies of genocide and ethnic cleansing by Myanmar’s forces has resulted in five separate waves of mass exodus by the country’s Rohingya minority. Over time, the international community–including Canada and the United Nations–has been outspoken about not forcing these Rohingya survivors of genocide back into the same conditions they fled.

Many of these Rohingya migrants fled to nearby Bangladesh, prompting the country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to put forward a 3-point proposal regarding the crisis. These proposals address the root of the problem faced by the Rohingya in Myanmar and point to issues that must be resolved before any repatriation process can begin. First, she proposed ending discriminatory laws against the Rohingya, along with the reinstatement of full citizenship for them. Secondly, Myanmar needs to prove that the Rohingya will not face the same violent persecution if they return to their homeland. That means (for starters) the establishment of an internationally protected safe-zone. In the same vein, all Rohingya concentration camps must be closed and all Rohingya who haven’t left Myanmar must be allowed to return to their homes. Finally, there must be accountability for the crimes committed, as impunity can only lead to more violence.

People understand the immense pressure Bangladesh faces as the host of approximately 1 million Rohingya genocide survivors. The international community needs to continue to support Bangladesh, so she does not bear this immense burden alone. Real, tangible solutions are needed to make sure that a sixth exodus of the Rohingya out of Myanmar–their ancestral homeland–doesn’t happen.  Moreover, such measures must be instilled to prevent the worst outcome of all: the completion of the Rohingya genocide by Myanmar’s forces.

“We cannot send genocide survivors back under the control of the same regime that is persecuting them,” said Ahmed Ramadan, Executive Director of Burma Task Force.

“There are over 100,000 Rohingya still living in concentration camps in Myanmar since 2012. How can we force back a group of people that have experienced so much pain and suffering when there are still Rohingya living in these camps inside of Myanmar without any rights or freedom?” Ramadan added.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has agreed to assess the voluntary nature of the possible repatriation of some Rohingya survivors back to Myanmar from Bangladesh. We were advised that the Bangladeshi army has entered Rohingya camps to interview families. This has sparked fear and terror in the refugee camps. Some fled into hiding, while others have attempted suicide.

Canada is on the executive committee of the UNHCR and is their 8th largest donor. Canada needs to use its relationship with Bangladesh and other countries in the region to stop any refoulement until safe conditions are met. Canada needs to act.

“In the absence of adequate measures ensuring the life, liberty, security and dignity of Rohingya people, forcing them to return to the concentration camps in Myanmar would expose Bangladesh to significant liability and may make complicit to the crimes of Myanmar regime,” said Washim Ahmed, the spokesperson of Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative.

“Bangladeshi authorities must keep in mind that unlike Myanmar, Bangladesh is a signatory to Rome Statute, which makes it subject to the ICC’s jurisdiction. Bangladesh must not haste and should try to solve the problem instead of pushing the Rohingyas back to an ongoing genocide zone.”


Canada’s Response to the Global Refugee Crisis

By Saifullah Muhammad,

It is fact that refugees are a burden is the root cause of today’s global crisis. Who are responsible for this inevitable crisis? The global refugee crisis has placed an unprecedented burden on the world’s resources.

Today, more than 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home by war, persecution of the government or disaster. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

 There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. It’s increasing day by day particularly refugees from Myanmar and Syria.

In a world where nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute as a result of conflict or persecution according UNHCR survey.

However, since 1976, UNHCR Representation opened its doors in Canada. Since then, Canada is playing a vital role to bring an end of the refugee crisis while partnering with UN Agencies. The Canadian public also plays an important role in helping refugees by donating money, providing information and educational materials to stakeholders.

As millions of Syrians continue to be displaced due to conflict in their home country, in 2015, the Government of Canada welcomed Syrian refugees with the cooperation of Canadians, including private sponsors, non-governmental organizations and provincial, territorial, and municipal governments.

Recently, Canada is committed to spent spend $35 million over five years to help Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh particularly on basic needs of women and girls as the country deals with a massive influx of refugees from Myanmar to escape persecution.

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced the new spending — to be directed through United Nations agencies — from Bangladesh, where she was getting a first-hand look at the crisis that has seen more than 620,000 Rohingya flee Myanmar since August.

Canadian people have chipped in $12.5 million to help Rohingyas escaping violence in Myanmar, bringing Canada’s total aid to address the humanitarian crisis to $50 million.

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced on 13 Dec., that between Aug. 25 and Nov. 28, 2017, Canadians donated more than $12.5 million to registered charities, which will be matched with federal dollars to help people driven to camps Bangladesh or are displaced within Myanmar.

Bibeau said the focus is on short-term emergency aid right now, but the federal government will look at longer-term assistance in partnership with the United Nations and non-governmental organizations.

But it does not appear that a refugee sponsorship program like the one launched by the Liberals for Syrian refugees is in the works.

Former Ontario premier Bob Rae was appointed as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special envoy on Myanmar, also visited refugee camps last month, describing the conditions as “terrible.”

International community together with United Nations should work closely to bring a durable solution to end the growing refugee crisis rather than helping with continuous humanitarian assistance.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on December 10. 1948. The UN thereby proclaimed, without imperial verification, that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It professed as a self-evident truth that “They are endowed with reason and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Yet human rights remain and idea at the core of self-conception.  Everyone demands justice for the oppressed and no longer accepts atrocities as the inescapable fate of the defenseless. Everyone desires and expects a better future. But when confront with the enormity of injustice and what it demands of, and then everyone retreats into the familiar ritual of moral posturing from safe distance. Moreover, we try to avoid the intimate knowledge of suffering without which we will never understand the imperative of human rights.

The initiatives led by the Canadian Government aims at bringing an end of refugee crisis and promoting human rights has been drawn global attention. Thus, Canada should be more active and act to engage its international partners for sustainable solution to make a better world.


Rohingya see a hope in Canada

By Saifullah Muhammad

People are resilient, we say. But now, in the middle of a growing refugee crisis that has left nearly a million people without a home and living with the trauma of horrific violence, that feels trite.

The Rohingya people have no choice but to be strong. The other option is death, despair and destruction. Every one of the hundreds of thousands of people living in camps in Bangladesh has seen more than enough of that – so they make the life they can.

The challenge is not for them — it is for Canadians. How to find inspiration and reason and energy to reach half way around the world and help.

People there see a role for Canada. The recent report from Canada’s Special Envoy on the Rohingya Crisis makes strong calls for more humanitarian assistance, more support to education and child protection, and humanitarian access into Myanmar (where there are still hundreds of thousands of Rohingya). It gives colleagues, friends and family there hope — hope that a major country is calling for serious action on this issue.

This is the time to act. Before children miss out on years of education. Before poverty gives way to criminal activity. Before a region is destabilized and the plastic roofs bowing under the weight of water, the sandy soil turning to mud, the drainage ditches overflowing.

We can build on those things that have been getting better. The number of malnourished children is declining. Successful vaccination campaigns have meant serious disease outbreaks were avoided. The camps hum with activity as people carry bamboo through the lanes and across newly built bridges over reinforced drainage canals. Maybe all this is resilience, and that isn’t trite at all.

Debate now centres on whether the unspeakable acts that happened in Myanmar can be considered genocide. For Rohingya children, the question is an abstraction. We’ve heard them tell us they were forced to watch men and boys being separated and killed; children and babies slaughtered; mothers and sisters raped; houses and villages burned to the ground.

They describe hiding in the forest, crossing rivers, trekking for days without food and water, carrying siblings not much smaller than themselves.

That debate must continue, but right now Rohingya children need action, not words. An end to the violence. Humanitarian assistance and protection. And when feasible, a voluntary, safe and dignified return to their homes.

Several hundred Rohingya now call Canada home, but the oceans between do little to distance them from the suffering of family and friends. They only add to the sense of responsibility to speak up, to act and to hope their new home will embrace their old.

These are the survivors of an atrocity – everyone carrying the burden of a trauma. Everyone with a remarkable will to live. Even though it is hard to imagine a future, they, we, still look ahead – but coming towards us we see the monsoon.


Canada’s immigration system benefits international students, says federal minister

By Saifullah Muhammad, Spoke News

Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, says Canada is one of the most generous countries for international students and the new immigration system benefits them in several ways.

During a talk in Waterloo last Thursday night, Hussen also addressed the important economic and social benefits of retaining international students.

“We allow international students to work while the classes are open for up to 20 hours a week and when the school is [on] breaks in the school system, like summer and Christmas, they are allowed to work full time.

“We allow them to access the post graduate work permit which allows them to work up to three years after graduation, which incidentally qualifies them to apply for the permanent residency. So we are very facilitated to international students,” Hussen said while speaking at the event, hosted by the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, in partnership with Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.

International students are statistically proven to be among the best candidates for immigration due to their high levels of quality education and language skills in Canada.

“We are the first government in Canadian history to look at potential international students around the world to tell them not only come and stay in Canada, we tell them… ‘we want you to stay’, because they make great Canadian citizens.

“They are eager, they are young, they speak English and French or both and they are educated in Canada. So why wouldn’t we want to hang on to them?” Hussen said.

According to Hussen, the challenges announced by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada also reduced the time required for a permanent resident to physically be in Canada prior to applying for citizenship from four years out of six to three years out of five.

When asked about the struggle of international students to find housing and that some complained they felt stretched by the high cost of transit, Hussen referred to the national housing strategy on housing targets and outcomes and how it promised that 100,000 new affordable housing units would be built and another 300,000 existing affordable housing units repaired.

“It will invest tens of billions of dollars in the next few years for all forms of housing, from temporary housing to affordable housing and [it will add] $25 billion in transit, which will hopefully enable access to some of the services,” he added.

Currently there are 7,000 international students studying this fall across all Conestoga campuses in a variety of programs, both full-time and part-time.


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