More than a dozen Rohingya refugees pack a living room inside a Kitchener, Ontario home Sunday morning, eagerly watching the Bangladeshi general election results trickle in.
Arguably, there is no demographic with more on the line in this election than the Rohingya people.
“It is very important for us because our families live there, our brothers and sisters live there,” said Rohingya refugee Saifullah Muhammad. “What will be the future of Rohingya after elections?”
“We fear the Rohingya will be forced back after the election,” said Muhammad.
“That is our main concern. If that is happening, then it will be a nightmare for the Rohingya in Bangladesh.
“Our families living in Bangladesh, they’re worried, always worried. They don’t know what will happen after the elections.”
“If they have to send my family back to Myanmar, where it’s hell, then we will just break down into pieces,” said Farid Ullah, another Rohingya refugee in Kitchener.
About 300 of the nearly 500 Canadian Rohingya refugees live in Kitchener — with many, if not all, having family who remain at the refugee camps in Bangladesh.
In August 2017, Myanmar military forces and Buddhist extremists began attacks on the Rohingya in the northwest region of the country. Since then, approximately 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh for refuge, where they have set up camps at Cox’s Bazar and its surrounding areas.
But there has always been opposition to the Rohingya in Bangladesh.
In late October, Bangladesh attempted to begin repatriation of the Rohingya Muslim refugees, but the move received backlash from international aid groups and the U.N. refugee agency. The deadline for the repatriation came and went in Novemberb with none of the listed refugees agreeing to go back to Myanmar.
Bangladesh then announced it would stall any repatriation and relocation programs until after the election.
“It’s really a really bad situation,” said Bob Rae, Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar. “They’re interested in continuing to work on how to get them back to Myanmar.”
COMING UP on @GlobalNational | Hundreds of Canadian #Rohingya watching Bangladeshi election closely today. The result could literally mean life or death for their families stuck in refugee camps. Tune in to hear their stories. @globalnewsto pic.twitter.com/CNCsYNYqLG
— Kamil Karamali (@KamilKaramali) December 30, 2018
Canada has also made attempts to bring in some of the more vulnerable Rohingya, but was denied by the Bangladeshi government.
“I continue to urge our own government to stay focused to develop a longer term strategy,” said Rae.
“We can’t walk away from these issues; we can’t walk away from the hardship. And so far, our government has indicated that it’s prepared to to take a longer view, which I think is very good.”
Now that Bangladesh’s election commission has announced the election of Sheikh Hasina for a third term Monday morning, Canadian Rohingya are planning on making a major push to reunite with their families by getting them sponsored in Canada.
“It’ll be a miracle,” said Ahmed Ullah, while watching the Bangladesh election coverage from Kitchener with fellow Rohingya refugees. “Miracles don’t happen everyday, but if the Bangladesh government allows that, it will be an angel who has been voted in to office.”
Either way, they’re convinced that now the election is over, there will be movement.
But will that movement allow them to find a better life in other countries, or will they be sent back to Myanmar?
Rohingya in Kitchener are eagerly waiting for the answer.