Canada's response to Rohingya humanitarian crisis tops $50M

Canadian donors have chipped in $12.5 million to help Rohingyas escaping violence in Myanmar, bringing Canada's total aid to address the humanitarian crisis to $50 million.

Assistance will prioritize help for women and children escaping sexual violence in Myanmar

A Rohingya refugee woman holds her children while walking on the road in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on Nov. 21. (Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters)

Canadian donors have chipped in $12.5 million to help Rohingyas escaping violence in Myanmar, bringing Canada's total aid to address the humanitarian crisis to $50 million.

More than 625,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, most of them women and children.

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced today that between Aug. 25 and Nov. 28, 2017, Canadians donated more than $12.5 million to registered charities, which will be matched with federal dollars to help people driven to camps Bangladesh or are displaced within Myanmar. 

The public donations and the government's total $37.5 million in aid for the humanitarian crisis now bring Canada's total to $50 million, making this country one of the top donors in this humanitarian response, according to the federal government.

The Liberal government has adopted a feminist-focused international assistance policy, which prioritizes the specific needs of women and girls in its response humanitarian crises.

Focus on women and girls

Canada's contribution to the Myanmar Crisis Relief Fund will address the needs of women and girls, including survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, pregnant and nursing women, and woman-headed households.

Funds will also go to sexual and reproductive health services and psychosocial counselling.

Last month, Bibeau visited refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, where she met with survivors of gender-based violence, unaccompanied children and new mothers, and members of humanitarian organizations.

During a news conference Wednesday, she recounted the harrowing and horrifying experiences of those forced to flee.

"They have seen their husbands and children killed. They have been raped. They have seen rape," she said. "They have seen their houses, of full villages, on fire."

Longer-term assistance

Bibeau said the focus is on short-term emergency aid right now, but the federal government will look at longer-term assistance in partnership with the United Nations and non-governmental organizations.

But it does not appear that a refugee sponsorship program like the one launched by the Liberals for Syrian refugees is in the works.

"There is an issue because they are not citizens of any countries, so this is something else to consider," Bibeau said.

Oxfam Canada's women's rights policy and advocacy specialist Brittany Lambert, who has also visited women in the camps, agreed that a long-term political solution must be reached, but for now there are immediate needs to save lives and improve conditions in the camps.

She said it is important to tell the stories of amazing hope and resilience, as well as those of heartbreaking and overwhelming need.

"Behind each statistic is a person," she said.

Camp conditions 'terrible'

Former Liberal MP Bob Rae, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's special envoy on Myanmar, also visited refugee camps last month, describing the conditions as "terrible."

"That, in fact, is a whole separate issue in terms of what we have to do as a world because the risks in that camp are serious: risks of mudslides, epidemics, water shortages in the dry season and then heavy, heavy flooding and in the wet season," he told CBC Radio's The Current after his return.

Myanmar has rejected UN accusations that its forces are engaged in ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in response to co-ordinated attacks by Rohingya insurgents on the security forces on Aug. 25.

It says its forces are fighting terrorists responsible for attacking the police and the army, for killing civilians and for torching villages.

Human Rights Watch has accused the security forces and Buddhist vigilantes of trying to drive Rohingya out of Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

Some of the charities receiving humanitarian funding from Canada are:

  • Save the Children Canada — $2.2 million.
  • Médecins du Monde — $1.5 million.
  • Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) — $1.5 million.
  • World Vision — $1.5 million.
  • Handicap International — $1.3 million.
  • Canadian Red Cross Society — $1 million.
  • CARE Canada — $1 million.

Aid will also go to safe water supply, sanitation and hygiene facilities, sexual health and reproductive services, mental health supports.

Jacquelyn Wright, Care Canada's vice-president of partnerships for global change, said there are growing concerns of a potential disease outbreak, and Canadian support is critical to meeting immediate health and protection needs. 

"But we know this must be coupled with diplomatic efforts to address underlying factors that led to this crisis," she said.

"We will look to the Canadian government to continue to focus on finding a diplomatic solution in the year ahead that ensures the refugees' rights and protection."