Kitchener Rohingya refugee wants Canada to do more in Myanmar

Ahmed Ullah is a Rohingya refugee who lives in Kitchener. He says Canada needs to do more than just express concern for what is happening to Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. A UN official says the violence against the Muslim minority is 'a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.'

‘Nothing from our prime minister yet, just a concerned tweet’

Ahmed Ullah is a Rohingya refugee who lives in Kitchener. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Canada needs to do more to help Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar, a Kitchener man says.

Ahmed Ullah was born in a refugee camp to Rohingya Muslim parents and came to Canada in 2009.

He still has family in Myanmar and over the past two weeks, they have called regularly as more than 370,000 refugees have poured out of Myanmar and into Bangladesh.

"When they talk to my mom, they say, 'Please forgive us.' And my mom is like, 'Why are you asking for forgiveness? You haven't done anything wrong.' They're like, 'We might not see the next daylight or we may not survive the next hour, so please forgive us because things are really serious here,'" he told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Wednesday.

Ullah said when he and his family left in 2009, things in the country were calming down. There was still ongoing violence, but people were not fleeing their homes.

But now, Ullah said it's like reliving a nightmare.

"I still don't believe this is happening. It feels like a horror movie, being here, living an ordinary life and all of a sudden, everything you had escaped has started again for other people," he said.

"And you're just sitting here and you can't do anything about it, just listen."
Rohingya refugees carry their child as they walk through water after crossing the border by boat through the Naf River in Teknaf, Bangladesh, on Sept. 7. (Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters)

More than 370,000 flee homes

Ullah said there was about four years of peace in Myanmar, formerly Burma, but then the government stopped mainstream media and United Nations workers from going into the country. He said that's why the violence is just now coming to everyone's attention.

In March of this year, the United Nations human rights council set up an investigation into alleged human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims by the army.

In June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was urged to press for the rights of Rohingya Muslims when he met with Myanmar's leader and honorary Canadian citizen Aung San Suu Kyi.

Trudeau made no mention of the Rohingya situation during a brief public photo-op with Suu Kyi then.

But on Wednesday, Trudeau spoke with Suu Kyi  to express "deep concerns" over the treatment of Muslims and other ethnic minorities in her country.

Then starting in August, more than 370,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Rakhine state. On August 25, hours after a report from the UN's advisory committee on Rakhine State called for change in the region due to unrest — insurgents attacked at least 20 police outposts and an army base. That, in turn, triggered a military response.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader of Myanmar and an honourary Canadian citizen, shares a laugh with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 7, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

'Nothing from our prime minister'

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein called Myanmar's actions a "cruel military operation" against Rohingya Muslims and said it was "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

As the world takes notice of what is happening in his home country — and to his family — Ullah wants Canada to do more then just acknowledge it.

"Not enough government leaders are speaking up," he said.

"Nothing from our prime minister yet, just a concerned tweet," he added. "Canada is just silent."

It's why Ullah and hundreds of others are expected to take part in rallies this Saturday. He will attend a rally in Toronto at Queen's Park, but he said similar rallies are expected in cities across the country.

"So we're raising our voice," he said. "What it will show to the Canadian government that there is enough Canadian citizens that are caring about what is happening here."

Ullah has a job. He has just started classes. He said life was finally falling into place for him — but feels compelled to help.

He will be going Bangladesh in early October — he's part of a group of Rohingya refugees in Canada partnering with the Minhaj Welfare Foundation to do some fundraising and outreach.

"I finally got back into school, I wanted to study and things like that, but me taking a week off from school and taking off from my schedule shouldn't be a big problem because these people need me and need all the help they can get," he said.