Canada's special envoy to Myanmar lands in Bangladesh
Jackie Dunham, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, November 3, 2017 12:02PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, November 3, 2017 5:16PM EDT
Canada’s new special envoy to Myanmar has arrived in the south of Bangladesh for a firsthand look at the conditions facing Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in neighbouring Myanmar.
Bob Rae, the former Ontario premier and interim leader of the federal Liberal party, met with officials in the city of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh on Friday to learn more about the refugee crisis.
CTV News’ Daniele Hamamdjian has been touring with the newly-appointed envoy and told CTV News Channel that he spent much of the day in meetings where he was given information about the challenges facing Bangladesh as it tries to cope with the swelling refugee population.
Since violence erupted in Rohingya villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in late August, more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have sought safety in Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s security forces conducted brutal raids on Rohingya villages in what they call “clearance operations” in retaliation for what they describe as attacks by Muslim insurgents. The United Nations has labelled the state-led violence as “ethnic cleansing.”
Rae will be visiting Bangladesh and Myanmar with a small team, which includes Canada’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh Benoit Prefontaine, to gain a better understanding of both sides of the conflict.
“He wants to get a full picture of the situation. He’s got a report he’s going to have to write and present to the prime minister and he’s got to have all the information,” Hamamdjian said.
The special envoy will have to tread carefully during his meetings with aid agencies and politicians in Bangladesh in case Myanmar officials are watching because he plans to there on Sunday, Hamamdjian said.
Rae will meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation leaders’ summit in Vietnam next week to share his findings, government officials said. Rae has been trying to schedule a sit down with Myanmar military leaders, who have been blamed for much of the violence, but nothing has been confirmed, the officials said.
Rae has no planned meeting with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been widely criticized for not condemning the attacks against the Muslim minority, but the envoy is open to the possibility.
One of Rae’s top priorities should be working with neighbouring nations to lobby Myanmar to stop the attacks, according to former United Nations undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief Jan Egeland.
"My humble advice to the Canadian envoy is to get countries like China, India, Japan, Singapore to put pressure on the military and security services in Myanmar," Egeland told the Canadian Press.
"It's not like they don't travel, that they do not have bank accounts abroad. They are reliant on the rest of the world."
On Saturday, aid agencies will give Rae a tour of Balukhali, a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, where he’ll have the opportunity to speak with victims of rape and violence and witness the camp’s conditions.
Hamamdjian reported that approximately 60 per cent of the camp’s refugees are children. She described how many of the children at Balukhali appeared to her on Friday evening.
“The trauma is in their eyes and the grief is just so palpable because you ask them where their parents are and then they start to cry because many of them witnessed the deaths of their parents,” she said.
Trudeau appointed Rae as Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar on Oct. 23. He has been tasked with engaging in diplomacy to address the ongoing violence and advising the prime minister on how Canada should support aid efforts in the region.
Rae’s mandate will last until January, when he plans to release a report on his findings.
Rae’s appointment was announced along with a pledge by the federal government to provide an additional $12 million in humanitarian aid, which brings Canada’s total financial commitment to the crisis to $25 million.
With files from The Canadian Press