Canada should take in Rohingya refugees: special envoy

Canadian special envoy to Myanmar Bob Rae speaks to CBC about his final report on the Rohingya crisis.

Canada should take in Rohingya refugees and press other nations to do the same, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special envoy to Myanmar said Tuesday.

Special envoy Bob Rae – on the heels of his fact-finding mission to Bangladesh and Myanmar – also urged Ottawa to increase humanitarian aid for the Rohingya, to continue to target human rights abusers with sanctions and to gather and protect evidence for possible future trials.

“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,” Rae told a news conference.

In the meantime, he estimated Can$150 million in annual aid is needed over the next four years to provide assistance, education and supporting infrastructure in more than a dozen refugee camps in Bangladesh near the Myanmar border.

Trudeau welcomed the report, saying his administration over the coming weeks would “assess the recommendations … and outline further measures we intend to take.”

Myanmar’s military has forced some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims out of Rakhine and across the border to Bangladesh since August, in a brutal crackdown which US and UN officials say amounts to ethnic cleansing of the minority.

The Buddhist-majority country has branded the Rohingya as illegal immigrants.

Myanmar’s army says its campaign was a legitimate counter-offensive aimed at rooting out Rohingya militants who staged deadly attacks on police posts.

But the civilians streaming into Bangladesh have told harrowing accounts of rape, arson and murder at the hands of soldiers and Buddhist vigilante mobs.

A repatriation deal signed in November between the two countries still has yet to see a single Rohingya refugee return, with most unwilling to sign up unless their safety and rights can be assured.

In a December interim report, Rae said witness accounts of the crisis were “chilling and graphic.”

Canada announced targeted sanctions in February against a Myanmar general who led the army crackdown, following similar US sanctions levelled against Major-General Maung Maung Soe.

Ottawa also pledged Can$25 million humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya last year.

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