Rallies were held across Canada and the world Saturday to mark the first anniversary of a series of attacks that sent some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing their homes in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for sprawling refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.
“When there is a crisis, when there is a genocide happening, no matter how much you do, it’s not enough until it stops,” Rohingya activist Ahmed Ullah told CTV News from a rally in front of the Ontario legislature in Toronto.
After years of violence and persecution, the plight of the Rohingya made international headlines following a brutal crackdown on the beleaguered minority that began on Aug. 25, 2017, after a small group of Rohingya insurgents staged attacks on Myanmar security forces.
Rohingya activists and their supporters rally for “Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day” in front of the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Aug. 25, 2018. (CTV News)
Those security forces, as well as Buddhist mobs, have subsequently been accused of sexual violence, razing homes and extrajudicial killings that have reportedly left thousands of Rohingya dead.
United Nations officials have likened the bloody campaign against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority — who have long been denied even basic rights such as citizenship — to “ethnic cleansing.”
The Toronto rally, which was billed as “Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day,” saw Rohingya activists and their supporters brave the rain for speeches and performances.
One of the attendees was Farid Ullah, a Rohingya man who still has family members in both Myanmar and the squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh.
“Right now they are going through a really bad situation,” he said of his family members that remain in Myanmar. “They cannot go out of the village… They don’t even know (if) they will be alive for the next day or not.”
Suffering through monsoon rains right now, he says that those in the Bangladesh camps are living “like cattle.”
The violence has abated somewhat in recent months, Farid Ullah added, and he thanked the media for bringing his people’s plight to international attention.
“When the world knew about it, then they started coming up to help,” he said.
In the nearby Regional Municipality of Waterloo, home to Canada’s largest Rohingya population, another rally was held Saturday.
“What happened prior to that was on and off and people were killed in tens of thousands,” Anwar Arkani, president of the Rohingya Association of Canada, said of the situation in Myanmar prior to Aug. 25, 2017 in an interview with CTV Kitchener. “But this time, it is many hundreds of thousands.”
For those who remain in Myanmar, Arkani said, conditions are particularly dire.
“Very soon they’ll be dying of various diseases, malnourishment,” he said. “We have nowhere else to go.”
Canada has committed $300 million dollars in aid over the next three years to help in the humanitarian crisis.
“It’s almost indescribably bad,” Bob Rae, Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar, told CTV News Channel in an interview Saturday about the Rohingya crisis.
“The long-term future is going to be very tough unless we figure out a way to make the conditions in the camp more livable than they are, because the way it looks politically is people are not going to go back voluntarily to a situation in Myanmar where they have no rights.”
Rae, who visited Myanmar and Bangladesh to write a report on the crisis, says that diplomatic pressure remains ongoing.
“Canada continues to play a critical role in making sure that change happens,” he said.
With files from CP24’s Leena Latafat, CTV Kitchener’s Max Wark, CTV National News’ John Vennavally-Rao, and CTV News Channel’s Molly Thomas.