Bangladeshi community trying to open western eyes to Rohingya 'ethnic cleansing'

Bangladeshi community trying to open western eyes to Rohingya 'ethnic cleansing'

Nearly a year after a military crackdown that launched what the United Nations has described as "ethnic cleansing" targeting Rohingya people in Myanmar, New Brunswickers with Bangladeshi roots are working to raise awareness about the crisis. 

"I'm emotionally affected by this because there are millions of people who are going through the atrocities," said Rifat Hasan, a University of New Brunswick student from Bangladesh.

"It feels that I do have some responsibility, not only as being a Bangladeshi but being a youth who's concerned about the world, who's concerned about human rights, who's concerned about what is right and wrong."

Hoping to increase international pressure

Hasan, along with Javed Khan, hopes that educating fellow New Brunswickers about Rohingya refugees will lead to an increase in international pressure that could help resolve the ongoing crisis. 

The Rohingya people are mostly Muslims in a predominantly Buddhist country. They have been persecuted in Myanmar since the 1970s, but in August 2017, an attack by Rohingya militants on police and military bases in the country prompted a crackdown on the ethnic minority. 

This forced almost a million Rohingya to flee across the Naf river in Teknaf, Bangladesh. One year later they're still isolated in camps in "horrendous" conditions, suffering what the UN has called "textbook ethnic cleansing" in Myanmar.

On Aug. 25, the one-year anniversary of the crisis, the Bangladeshi community, made up of just over 100 people in the province, will gather in front of the New Brunswick Legislature with posters, pamphlets and speeches. 

They've also invited local MPs and MLAs. 

"We want people to discuss this issue," said Hasan. "At the end it will lead to some pressure and we want pressure."

"I don't think in New Brunswick people [are] fully aware what is going on in Rohingya, what is the root cause of the issue," said Khan, who's been in Canada since 2001.

Khan said it may seem small, but what they really want is for people to ask questions, and write to their local or federal politicians.

"It is very important for the New Brunswickers to know what is happening in other parts of the world because it's related to global politics," he said. "It's related to how the world is reacting."

A national movement

Raïss Tinmaung, part of the Rohingya Human Rights Network, asked Hasan and Khan to participate in a cross-country awareness effort after noting that New Brunswick had not had a Rohingya awareness campaign yet.

Tinmaung, who is half Bangladeshi and half Rohingya, said he's spent time in some of the camps in Bangladesh, where Rohingya refugees live in conditions described as "horrendous."

"Until we act we're going to witness another Rwanda," he said. "History is going to repeat itself in other parts of the world and us Canadian will just stand there as spectators of this new Rwanda unfolding which I do not accept."

Tinmaung has been coordinating with groups across the country to hold the demonstration and information session on Aug. 25.

Tinmaung said apart from supporting the camps, which is "very essential," the government of Canada and the rest of the international community should address what's happening in Myanmar, which is the "root cause" of the crisis.

Khan said the hope for now is to "raise a little pressure to the Myanmar government to resolve this issue through our political channels."