Advertisement

‘We want to build a community’: Rohingyas call on Canada to resettle more refugees

Click to play video 'Family of Rohingya refugees among thousands stuck in overcrowded Bangladesh camps' Family of Rohingya refugees among thousands stuck in overcrowded Bangladesh camps
WATCH: Family of Rohingya refugees among thousands stuck in overcrowded Bangladeshi camps

The Nayapara refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh is a world away from Kitchener, Ont., which Saifullah Muhammad now calls home.

Saifullah’s family was part of the 1992 exodus of persecuted Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh. He managed to secure refugee status in Canada in 2016 after spending several years working as an interpreter for the United Nations and international news organizations in Malaysia.

But his family remains in limbo in Bangladesh, among the estimated 700,000 Rohingyas to have taken refuge there after fleeing the bloodshed in Myanmar.

READ MORE: Myanmar army fakes photos in ‘True News’ book on Rohingya

On Sunday, Saifullah let Global News into his apartment as he enjoyed the rare privilege of a Skype call with his family, who gathered in their cramped tent in the Nayapara refugee camp.

Story continues below advertisement

He started by asking younger brother Amir how things were going in the refugee camp. The response was stark.

“Our situation is not good. If we went to hospital for medicine, the doctors said [to] us there is no medicine enough,” Amir responded in broken English. “There is no water for us enough. There is no water for bathing… for drinking, for everything.”

He added: “Our life is very bad.”

WATCH: Family of Rohingya refugee in Canada stuck in Bangladesh

Click to play video 'Family of Rohingya refugee in Canada stuck in Bangladesh' Family of Rohingya refugee in Canada stuck in Bangladesh
Family of Rohingya refugee in Canada stuck in Bangladesh

In addition to Amir, Saifullah also has another younger brother and a younger sister. He worries about their future because they’re growing up without an education.

“Because my brothers and sisters are growing up in camps, they have no future, they are not allowed to go out of the camp to study,” Saifullah told Global News.

Story continues below advertisement

“There’s thousands of Rohingya kids who are unable to study in school… we are very much concerned about their security because if these kinds of kids don’t get proper education, proper manners, proper knowledge, it is very easy to be exploited.”

WATCH: Life inside Rohingya refugee camps

Click to play video 'Life inside Rohingya refugee camps.' Life inside Rohingya refugee camps.
Life inside Rohingya refugee camps.

Then there’s the issue of safety.

Bangladesh has urged Myanmar to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled the crackdown against their community. But Rohingya are wary of returning, fearful of suffering further atrocities at the hands of the Myanmar military and rival ethnic groups.

Saifullah says his beloved uncle was one of the thousands of Rohingyas to have been slaughtered in Myanmar. A respected village elder, he went out fishing in October 2017 but was accosted by a group of ethnic Rakhine people, who beat him up before throwing him in the water.

Story continues below advertisement

“When I was young, my uncle loved me, took care of me, took me everywhere,” Saifullah said. “I miss him a lot, still I miss him a lot.”

Now resettled in Kitchener, where he lives with his wife and baby daughter, Saifullah is going to college to study journalism, a profession that he hopes will help him become a strong voice for his community.

READ MORE: Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel laureate and honourary Canadian, slammed after Myanmar imprisons journalists

He’s also the media and public relations coordinator of the Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative (CRDI), an NGO that lobbies for the resettlement of Rohingya refugees in Canada and provides community support and resources to Canada’s Rohingyas, most of whom are concentrated in southeastern Ontario.

Saifullah says he and the CRDI have met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to discuss the issue, and while the government has made encouraging noises, tangible action has been slow to come.

“Our message to the government is, like me there are so many Rohingya brothers and sisters in Canada who are traumatized for their parents, for their brothers and sisters in Bangladesh and Burma [Myanmar]. They want to bring family here,” he said.

WATCH: Could the world have done more to stop the Rohingya crisis?

Click to play video 'Could the world have done more to stop the Rohingya crisis?' Could the world have done more to stop the Rohingya crisis?
Could the world have done more to stop the Rohingya crisis?

Washim Ahmed, a refugee lawyer and spokesperson for CRDI, said he believes the leaders of Canada and Bangladesh are willing to cooperate towards resettling refugees.

Story continues below advertisement

“I believe it’s the bureaucracy that’s delaying the resettlement process of the refugees, so we would request the government to expedite that process,” Ahmed said. “It’s psychologically very tough for Canadian Rohingya refugees to live here in Canada in peace when their families are suffering and going through horror and trauma in refugee camps.”

Ahmed says he’s hopeful for progress in the wake of a new United Nations report that accused the Myanmar military of committing genocide. The use of the word “genocide” ostensibly raises pressure on the international community to step in to help those affected.

Myanmar has consistently denied allegations of committing atrocities against Rohingya refugees, saying it has only carried out justifiable actions against armed Rohingya militants.

READ MORE: Myanmar generals must be tried for genocide against Rohingya Muslims, UN says

For Saifullah, the resettlement of Rohingya refugees is about more than the desire of him and other Rohingya in Canada to be reunited with their families.

“We want some Rohingya here in Canada as we can grow our community here,” Saifullah said.

“We want to build a community so we can help our suffering community in Burma [Myanmar], in Bangladesh and other refugees living in other countries.”

Advertisement