10 Nov
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Bob Rae to Urge Trudeau

The Globe and Mail

Canadian special envoy to Myanmar Bob Rae can’t shake the private conversation he had this week with one of the more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence to Bangladesh.

“The one sentence that I will never forget was a man who broke down as he said goodbye to me. He said ‘We’re human,'” Mr. Rae said following his first trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh as special envoy.

“I think that this reflects the sense that a great many Rohingya have – that they have not been treated as if they were truly human.”

Speaking to The Globe and Mail from Vietnam on Thursday, Mr. Rae described the squalid conditions in the Bangladeshi refugee camps where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have fled since August, when the most recent violence in Myanmar began.

“They are living in very, very cramped quarters in small rooms that are made of bamboo and plastic tarp. And it’s extremely hot at the moment. We’re in the dry season in Myanmar,” he said.

Mr. Rae is set to brief Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation leaders’ summit in Da Nang, Vietnam. He said he will urge Mr. Trudeau to maintain Canada’s support for the Rohingya, particularly children who make up the majority of the refugees and have no access to education.

“I’ll be describing it to him and giving him as much information as I possibly can and encouraging the government to stay involved and engaged. And I hope he’ll agree with me,” said Mr. Rae, a former Ontario premier and Liberal MP.

“Many of these kids have not been to school in Myanmar and have not had access to education. And that I think, frankly, it’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity.”

 

He said Canadian aid money could help provide education to Rohingya children. Canada has pledged more than $25-million in humanitarian assistance for Bangladesh and Myanmar this year, contributing to the UN’s appeal for $434-million (U.S.) before February.

Mr. Rae is also hoping he can join Mr. Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland for a meeting with Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, set for Friday afternoon, after he briefs the Prime Minister.

“It’s part of an ongoing dialogue between the Government of Canada and the Government of Myanmar,” Mr. Rae said.

The meeting comes after Ms. Suu Kyi – an honorary Canadian citizen and Nobel Peace Prize laureate – met Mr. Trudeau during a trip to Ottawa in June. Mr. Trudeau has since joined international criticism of Ms. Suu Kyi, urging her to live up to her moral obligations as a Nobel laureate and condemn the violence against the Rohingya. However, he has not responded to calls to revoke her honorary Canadian citizenship, including a petition that has garnered nearly 45,000 signatures.

The UN Refugee Agency says more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled violence to Bangladesh from Myanmar since Aug. 25. The violence began after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts and an army base in the state of Rakhine. Myanmar’s military responded by killing hundreds of people, triggering an exodus of Rohingya. Ms. Suu Kyi and the country’s military have come under international pressure to end the violence, but Ms. Suu Kyi does not have any control over the military under the 2008 constitution.

Rohingya Muslims have faced decades of discrimination and persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and are denied citizenship despite centuries-old roots in Rakhine.

“They do want to go home … but they don’t want to go back into a situation where they’re completely marginalized,” Mr. Rae said.

Mr. Rae said that resettling hundreds of thousands of Rohingya is going to be a “huge challenge.” He said more attention must be paid to their immediate humanitarian needs, such as health care, raising particular concern about the potential for disease when the rainy season arrives next year.

In Bangladesh, Mr. Rae met with the country’s Foreign Minister, senior officials and civil-society representatives. Although he was unable to access remote Rakhine during his visit to Myanmar, he did have an hour-long meeting with Mr. Suu Kyi’s advisers in Yangon. However, he didn’t meet with any of Myanmar’s military officials. Asked whether he requested a meeting with the military, Mr. Rae said “it’s an ongoing process” and “a matter of building confidence.”

Mr. Rae plans to return to the region in January, after which he will deliver a final report to Mr. Trudeau based on his findings.

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