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.


Bob Rae’s final report: A glimpse of hope for Rohingya

By Saifullah Muhammad

Prime minister’s special envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae, released a report Tuesday urging Canada to “signal a willingness” to welcome Rohingya refugees and implement sanctions against those responsible for the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the southeast Asian country.

The report titled: “Tell them we’re human,” also states that there is evidence “to support the charge that crimes against humanity have been committed” in Myanmar.

The federal government says it is studying Rae’s findings and intends to do more in the “coming days and weeks” Rae’s 17 recommendations include Canada increasing its funding, and consider playing a prominent role in initiating an investigation into potential war crimes, but stops short of wading into whether or not Canada should revoke Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship.

“I’m calling the situation as I see it,” Rae said, speaking to reporters in Ottawa about his new report. “It’s a very, very troubling tragic situation. It’s going to require a change of heart inside Myanmar to really make repatriation possible. It’s going to require a willingness to accept international presence, assistance… That’s going to take a lot of effort to make that happen. The situations in the camps are terrible.”

Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau meets with the Rohingya activists in Kitchener to discuss the Rohingya project on March 20, 2018/Photo by Selina

Responding to the report, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, and Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau issued a statement saying they welcome Rae’s work, and that it “reaffirms” the urgency of the crisis. The ministers said they will soon be outlining further measures the federal government will take.

“We can and must do more,” the ministers said. “That is why we will continue to engage at home and abroad over the coming days and weeks to register our deep concern about the crisis and to seek a path forward with the international community.”

Since August 2017, roughly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority Rakhine state for refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh amid widespread violence that the United Nations has labelled “textbook ethnic cleansing.”

In October 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Rae, a former Toronto MP and Ontario premier, as Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar to investigate the Rohingya’s plight.

Although initially barred from entering Rakhine state — the epicentre of the Rohingya humanitarian crisis — Rae travelled to the region in February where he was able “to see the extent of the destruction of the Rohingya villages.” He also visited refugee camps in Bangladesh. “Words cannot convey the extent of the humanitarian crisis people currently face in Bangladesh and Myanmar,” Rae wrote in Tuesday’s report.

“In addition to accounts of shooting and military violence, I also heard directly from women of sexual violence and abuse at the hands of the Myanmar military and of the death of children and the elderly on the way to the camps,” Rae told reporters he briefed members of Cabinet and Trudeau on his findings last week.

The Prime Minister welcomes the final report. “Today, I welcome the final report from the Special Envoy to Myanmar, Bob Rae. I appreciate Mr. Rae’s thorough work as Special Envoy and thank him for his invaluable insights, his professionalism, and his thoughtful recommendations,” Prime Minister said. “Canada is determined to help respond to this crisis. In the coming weeks, we will assess the recommendations in this report and outline further measures we intend to take.”

These are the main takeaways from Rae’s report:

Welcoming refugees

In his list of recommendations, Rae states that “Canada should signal a willingness to welcome refugees from the Rohingya community in both Bangladesh and Myanmar, and should encourage a discussion among like-minded countries to do the same.” Such resettlements, the report adds, should not be seen as a solution to the ongoing refugee crisis, nor should they diminish the Myanmar government’s duties to take responsibility for the violent exodus and aid hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in returning home.

Although Myanmar’s government has publicly expressed a willingness to resettle those who have fled the country, years of systematic violence at the hands of Myanmar’s security forces and Buddhist mobs means that such plans have been met with widespread scepticism by Rohingya refugees. Moreover, many Rohingya villages, Rae notes, have likely already been razed.

Economic sanctions

The report recommends that Canada and its allies implement “targeted economic sanctions” against individuals, organizations and companies that have broken international humanitarian laws “or other laws related to conflict, including breaches of the Rome Statute and the UN Convention on Genocide.”

“Canada should be actively working with like-minded countries to identify the individuals or parties that should be subject to such sanctions,” the report adds. “Canada should also continue its arms embargo and should seek a wider ban on the shipment of arms to Myanmar.”

Canada’s Myanmar arms embargo were first implemented in 2007. Speaking on CTV Power Play Tuesday evening, Rae also argued against broader economic sanctions. “Big-time economic sanctions only hurt the most vulnerable,” he said. “And … if you don’t have China, India, Thailand, neighbouring countries onside, you got nothing.”

Crimes against humanity

According to the report, there are “strong signals that crimes against humanity were committed in the forcible and violent displacement of more than 671,000 Rohingya from Rakhine State in Myanmar.” The alleged perpetrators, Rae’s report adds, include Myanmar’s military.

“Those who are responsible for breaches of international law, including crimes against humanity, should be brought to justice,” the report states. “This applies to all those involved, including state actors and non-state actors, armies, and individuals.” Evidence must be collected, Rae adds, though difficulties in prosecuting such crimes exist insofar as Myanmar is not a signatory to the treaty that established the International Criminal Court.

“But steps should be taken to encourage the International Criminal Court to consider an investigation on the issue of forcible deportation,” Rae writes. “The Government of Canada should be actively involved in funding these efforts and in continuing to apply targeted sanctions against those where credible evidence supports such measures.”

Increasing aid

Rae recommends that Canada “take a leadership role in responding to the current crisis by stepping up humanitarian and development efforts in Bangladesh and Myanmar.” In addition to humanitarian assistance and supporting infrastructure development, education should also be a priority, Rae states. In the report, he estimates the annual cost of such a commitment to be $150 million for the next four years.

The visiting Canadian Minister discusses with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh during her visit/Photo by the Sun

“A good chunk of it is going to go to the camp in Bangladesh,” Rae added while speaking on Power Play. Some of it, he said, should also help “people living in Myanmar in very tough and precarious situations.” “And some of it goes to us because we need to up our game in terms of our diplomatic representation,” he added. “I recommend that we should get a defence attaché there in Yangon able to engage with the government on the military side because it’s a two-headed government and right now we’re dealing only with the civilian side.”

To date, Canada has already earmarked more than $45 million in humanitarian aid to the troubled region. The need for humanitarian assistance is particularly urgent now, Rae’s report notes, as those who reside in Bangladesh’s sprawling and crowded refugee camps, are “at risk of death or serious illness as a result of flooding, landslides, and water-borne diseases expected to be brought by the upcoming monsoon season” that begins in May.


International advocacy

In his report, Rae states that Ottawa’s response to the crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh should be considered a “litmus test” for Canada’s foreign policy. He also suggests that the crisis is discussed during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April as well as during the 2018 G7 summit that Canada will be hosting in May.

“Canada should urge like-minded countries to establish an International Working Group to ensure that, to the extent possible, policies, programs, and persuasion are exercised in a coordinated fashion,” he says in the report. “If we do things together, we can have more impact than if we do them alone,” Rae added on Power Play.

Rae said that Canada can lead by example — and that could start by earmarking more money for the Rohingya crisis. “That way you can go to… all the European countries, and go back to Indonesia, you can go to the wealthy Gulf States, who frankly haven’t done a lot in terms of money, and say, ‘This is what we’re doing and this is how we think you can help,’” he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s military

Rae notes that Myanmar’s civilian leader, honorary Canadian citizen and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, wields no control over the country’s vast military, which only recently loosened its hold on Myanmar after nearly 50 years of dictatorship. Myanmar’s military has often been cited as a main aggressor in the Rohingya humanitarian crisis.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets Aung San Suu Kyi in Ottawa during her visit to discuss democracy, human rights, and the protection of minorities in Myanmar. Photo from twitter

“(Former UN Secretary-Genera) Kofi Annan referred to there being ‘two governments’ in Myanmar—one military; one civilian,” Rae writes. “Canada needs to continue to engage with the Government of Myanmar, in both its civilian and military wings, and continue to do so in a way that expresses candidly its views about what has happened, and is still happening, and to insist that all activities of the Government of Myanmar, including military activities, must be carried out in conformity with international law.”

Speaking on Power Play, Rae declined to weigh in on the contentious issue of Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship, nor would he opine on whether or not the country’s civilian leader shares responsibility for the humanitarian crisis. “Until you have the evidence, you really don’t want to go around making political statements saying, ‘Well, we think she’s responsible,’ because we actually don’t have the evidence for that yet,” he said.

Read the full report here….


CRDI Thanks Canada for Supporting Rohingya Human Rights

By Saifullah Muhammad

The Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative (CRDI), thanks the Twenty-Ninth Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for imposing sanctions on Major-General Maung Maung Soe under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act in response to the genocidal violence committed by actors and entities associated with the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

CRDI team meets with Marie-Claude Bibeau, the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, in Kitchener, Ontario on Jan 23, 2018,/ Photo by CRDI

“As Canadian Rohingya, we are proud of Canada’s stance,” said Farid Ullah, the program coordinator of CRDI.” “The Government’s decision to impose sanctions against Major-General Maung Maung Soe is a significant and positive step. We encourage the international community to follow Canada’s lead.”

He also pointed out that Major-General Maung Maung Soe is one of many figures in the apparatus of the security regime that controls Myanmar. He is not the only culprit behind the ongoing Rohingya genocide. There are two other persons of influence that Canada should, in good faith, consider for additional targeted sanctions.

“The first person of immediate importance is Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the current Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces (the Tatmadaw),” Ullah added. “With overall command responsibility, he is verifiably the main perpetrator. It has been established beyond doubt that the Tatmadaw and its affiliated paramilitary formations routinely carry out crimes against humanity under the orders and supervision of Min Aung Hlaing as a matter of Myanmar state policy. The regime’s atrocities include infants being burned alive, civilians being buried alive, mass rapes and instances of beheadings among countless other acts of state terror.”

“The second person of importance is Her Excellency Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar. The de facto head of government, her premiership is marred by an explicit withdrawal from her responsibilities vis-à-vis principles of fundamental justice and the rule of law. Her regime has consistently blocked aid to reach the persecuted Rohingya minority, she has actively encouraged local and international audiences to not refer to the Rohingya by name. She is accelerating the military regime’s policy of denying citizenship for Rohingya persons, upholding the discriminatory Myanmar Citizenship Law of 1982 which stripped the Rohingya of their Myanmar nationality, Ullah further stated.”

Aung San Suu Kyi is an honorary Canadian citizen and a recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. Yet her government makes no effort to stop the genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.

Canada’s response to the plight of Syrian and Kurdish Yazidi refugees was commendable. The situation faced by the Rohingya is similar if not worse.


“We are sincerely hoping to see Canada continue its efforts and rally the international community to do the right thing. It is unacceptable for nation-states to engage in genocidal practices with impunity in 2018, Ullah said.”

“We strongly urged the Government of Canada to continue increasing pressure and sanctions against the Myanmar regime. Canada will find allies in this endeavour through multilateral forums of cooperation such as the United Nations. It gives us, and our beleaguered loved ones fleeing violence, some hope in this dark chapter,” Ullah pointed out.

Saifullah Muhammad is a Rohingya and student of journalism at Conestoga College. He can be reached at

Letter To FA Canada PDF by Saifullah Muhammad on Scribd


The Black Panther: Your Reflections Matter

The Black Panther has made history at the box-office. Have you ever been so excited about a thing that in anticipation of that thing? If no, please go watch first and reflect on it how Ryan Cooglar and Joe Robert Cole introduced in a brilliant splash page that opens Black Panther. Secretary Everett K. Ross is a white CIA agent, who finds himself in over his head as liaison to Black Panther. Awkward, cowardly, and far too concerned with how others see him.

Black people have been given superheroes before.  Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Dr King, Malcolm X, Zora Neale Hurston, Muhammed Ali, Maya Angelou, Magic Johnson.  We’ve seen the strength of Black people in politics, sports, social movements, and perhaps most often in entertainment, but never like this before.

This is a story about  T’Challa who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life. Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” is now playing in theatres.

I found balance. I loved T’Challa right away, but many people empathized with Ross’s struggle to navigate an entirely new world. Ross is capable but utterly unequipped for T’Challa and Wakanda.

Black Panther. (Posters: Marvel)

A white guy reflects on the Black Panther in his own way, “It is a movie about a superhero, but not just any superhero—a black superhero. And that’s what has me a bit perplexed. The movie was excellent, but it moved me emotionally in a way I wasn’t expecting. The plotline was inspiring, the acting was captivating, and the special effects were dope. But that’s not what got me.”

Different people express their own opinions but for me, the Black Panther was all it is worth. “I am learning more and more about the Black Panther Party every day, This job has really opened my eyes to the Civil Rights Movement; in school, I did not learn much about the Black Panthers,” said Raquel Booker. “I learned a little about Martin Luther King Jr., I heard about Malcolm X. This project has made me more interested in what was going on during that time and what people were going through: with fighting wars, boycotts, and sit-ins, so generations to come would not have to be put through the torment and pain they experienced.”

From the kick-butt African women guardians who led revolts and didn’t stand for an incompetent leader, to the hero that these black kids in the streets needed to look up to, to the representation of African characters, and the call in solidarity with brothers and sisters of this earth, Black Panther led the way for social reform.

It should be time for all of us to understand that there is nothing wrong with having diverse friends. Encourage each other to break social norms, show love to all your brothers and sisters, not just the ones that look like you. If you’re only looking through one lens, you are missing a lot of scenery.

Black Panther premiered in Los Angeles on January 29, 2018, and was released theatrically in the United States on February 16, 2018, in 2D, 3DIMAX and other premium large formats. It received critical acclaim, with praise directed toward its visuals, screenplay, characters, direction, costume design, action sequences, soundtrack, and performances. Critics considered it as one of the best films set in the MCU and noted its cultural significance. It has grossed over $462 million worldwide, and its four-day opening weekend gross of $242.1 million in the United States was the second-highest of all-time. Its three-day gross of $202 million was the fifth-highest of all-time and also set the record for the biggest debut by an African American director.