Bob Rae, Canada's special envoy to Myanmar, is planning to discuss the Rohingya crisis with the prime minister of Bangladesh following the G7 summit.
Rae has been an outspoken proponent of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority. Since August 2017, an estimated 700,000 Rohingya have fled the Buddhist-majority country for squalid refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh amid widespread violence that the United Nations human rights chief has called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
“I can't quite describe adequately to you the extent of the humanitarian crisis and the sense that we are in a desperate race against time to make sure people are safe,” Rae told the Senate human rights committee during an emotional testimony on June 6.
The meeting, which is scheduled to take place Monday, comes after it was recently announced that Myanmar and the UN had signed an agreement that might lead to the repatriation of some of those refugees. That agreement, however, has been widely panned by the Rohingya for failing to address one of their key demands: Myanmar citizenship.
“Without that, they can be very easily denied of any of the rights that the citizens have, including security (and) rule of law,” international development expert and University of Ottawa professor Nipa Banerjee told CTV News.
“The government of Myanmar is clearly saying citizenship is an issue for later,” Rae, a former Liberal MP and Ontario premier, told CTV News after his Senate testimony.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is in Canada as one of 12 world leaders invited to join an outreach session at the G7 summit. Hasina also attended a dinner hosted by Governor General Julie Payette on Friday and met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other world leaders on Saturday.
“Bangladesh is such an important part of this issue,” Rae said after appearing before the Senate. “It’s not just a place where people are hanging out until they wait to go back. It’s a country that has been very, very seriously affected by the arrival of so many refugees.”
Those refugees, Rae added, are now in even more danger as Bangladesh faces its annual monsoon season.
“I really want to explore with (Prime Minister Hasina) how we can help with the question of the monsoons and the physical condition of the camps, which is really terrible, and how we can also be helpful to them in any discussions or negotiations that they’re having with the government of Myanmar,” Rae said.
Canada has committed $300 million over the next three years to respond to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Earmarked for emergency assistance, as well as reproductive health and education programs, much of that money will likely be spent in Bangladesh.
Still, that’s a number that Rae would like to see doubled, as per his recommendations in his report on the Rohingya.
“The camps are full of young people,” Rae told the Senate, choking back tears as he recalled a recent trip to Bangladesh. “And the thing that I felt as a father and a grandfather is, these are just kids.”
With files from CTV's Omar Sachedina, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press