The Canadian government is stepping up its humanitarian effort on the Rohingya refugee crisis, announcing Tuesday that it would match every eligible donation made by individual Canadians to registered charities between Aug. 25 and Nov. 28.
"In the face of this crisis, I know that Canadians want to help. They want to do their part," said Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau. "The needs on the ground are huge, particularly for women and children who represent 70 per cent of new refugees since August."
"I invite all Canadians to be generous...your donations will save lives and will help more than 900,000 refugees to recover their sense of dignity until they are able to return to their homes to live, hopefully, in peace and security," Bibeau said.
The United Nations refugee agency estimates that since Aug. 25, more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled violence in Myanmar and are now in Bangladesh, joining an existing Rohingya refugee population of roughly 300,000. The latest surge follows a brutal Myanmar army-led campaign against the Muslim-minority population that the UN human rights chief has described as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."
The Canadian government has already committed more than $25 million in humanitarian assistance funding to Bangladesh and Myanmar this year.
Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed former Ontario premier Bob Rae as special envoy to Myanmar. Rae is travelling to Myanmar this week.
'Exhausted, distressed and traumatized'
Bibeau was joined by representatives of the Canadian Red Cross and Islamic Relief Canada, both of whom welcomed the announcement.
"The Canadian Red Cross is on the ground in Bangladesh and seeing first hand the devastating effects that this emergency is having on hundreds of thousands of people," said Pat Laberge, director of global programs at the Canadian Red Cross. "They are exhausted, distressed and traumatized."
Laberge said the crisis is disproportionately affecting women and girls.
"Existing health care facilities are completely overstretched, meaning that survivors of sexual assault and pregnant women, many of whom are adolescent girls, have very little access to the care that they need."
Laberge added the refugee population is at high risk of many forms of exploitation, including human trafficking and sexual abuse.
The majority of Rohingya refugees are housed in a make-shift refugee camp near Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Estimates put the total camp population at more than 800,000 people, making it one of the largest refugee camps in the world.
"The conditions are horrific," said Islamic Relief Canada CEO Zaid Al-Rawni, who just returned from Cox's Bazar.
"You suddenly had a town the size of Ottawa...converging on a place and there isn't a single washroom or single tap of water to make sure that sanitation remains safe for people."
Al-Rawni said Tuesday's announcement will have a real impact on the ground and save lives because the government is encouraging Canadians to engage with the crisis.
"Your one dollar will now double its impact. What you did with one dollar yesterday, you will now double today," he said.
The governmernt's website has more information on how to donate at Canada.ca/MyanmarCrisis.