A group of Edmontonians is calling on the Canadian government to intervene in the crisis in Myanmar.
Hundreds gathered on the steps of the Alberta Legislature on Sunday to bring attention to what they call “a genocide happening in the country.”
According to the United Nations, over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled violence in that country and are now in neighbouring Bangladesh, living in small camps in dire conditions.
That number includes an estimated 240,000 children, UNICEF said.
“The whole international community hasn’t paid attention to what is going on there — or taken any measures to actually stop the genocide from happening,” event organizer Raid Salim said. “It’s very important for us as Edmontonians, as human beings, to stand up for what’s right and voice our concerns and demand that the genocide and killing of innocent people stop immediately.”
READ MORE: ‘They burned our home’: Rohingya Muslims watch as soldiers destroy villages in Myanmar
Ethnic Rohingya have long faced discrimination in Myanmar and are denied citizenship, even though many families have lived there for generations.
“We’re asking the Canadian government to start a coalition at the United Nations demanding that the Myanmar government put an end to all acts of violence,” Salim said. “We’re asking that the whole international community to put a massive relief aid package together to help the people that had to flee their homes.”
After a Rohingya insurgent group attacked police posts in Myanmar’s Rakhine state on Aug. 25, the military responded with “clearance operations.” Fleeing Rohingya say security forces shot indiscriminately, burned their homes and threatened them with death. The government says hundreds died, mostly Rohingya, and that 176 out of 471 Rohingya villages have been abandoned.
“Innocent people are being killed for no other reason than being part of a certain ethnic group,” Salim said. “The world has stopped paying attention — we have to stop and think what can we do to help those refugees.”
WATCH: ‘They torched our houses’: WFP says Rohingya families have arrived in Bangladesh malnourished, hungry
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday described the violence against Rohingya as “ethnic cleansing” — a term that describes an organized effort to rid an area of an ethnic group by displacement, deportation or killing.
Amnesty International said Thursday it has evidence of an “orchestrated campaign of systematic burnings” by Myanmar security forces targeting dozens of Rohingya villages over the last three weeks.
Abul Bashar, a 73-year-old Rohingya in Bandarban, said he traveled 15 days on foot to reach Bangladesh on Wednesday, and was separated from the rest of his family.
READ MORE: Why the minority Muslim group is fleeing Myanmar
Several people at Sunday’s rally in Edmonton also called on the government to strip Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi of her honourary Canadian citizenship.
The country’s former leader once stood as a human rights icon, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. She was admired and respected around the world as she endured house arrest and the repression of Myanmar’s military government.
In 2007, the Canadian government made her an honourary citizen.
“I think that’s an honour that she doesn’t need to carry for [turning] a blind eye [to] what’s happening,” Salim said. “She’s denying any kind of abuse against the Royhinga Muslims. We want to ask the Canadian government to strip her of that honour — she doesn’t deserve to be a Canadian.”
“We have to create a huge awareness campaign between community members and the whole country — people have to understand what’s happening there.”
Sunday’s rally was organized by several local multicultural and religious groups.
with files from the Associated Press