Regina protesters call for end to killing and torture in Myanmar

Keemae Paw and members of her family were part of a group of more than 30 people gathering in Regina on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.

University student channels past life as refugee into a passion for human rights

Keemae Paw (second from left) and members of her family came to Canada in 2006 as refugees, having left Myanmar where they and their fellow Karen people were persecuted. The family came out to a protest in Regina on Saturday, to mark the anniversary of wide-scale attacks in Myanmar against the Rohingya people. (CBC News)

Keemae Paw still has childhood recollections of growing up in Myanmar — her parents holding her on their backs as they ran away and hid in the jungle to save themselves from military attacks.

While she and her family, along with hundreds of other fellow Karen refugees, were eventually able to find sanctuary in Canada, she's now watching as the Rohingya people face similar atrocities in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

"They have experienced what we experienced when we were living in Burma," she said. "We have been living in fear, we've been tortured, raped — the women are being raped and tortured — being killed, every single day by the Burmese army."

Paw and members of her family were part of a group of more than 30 people gathering in Regina on Saturday, to mark the first anniversary of the Rohingya crisis. They stood at the corner of Albert Street and College Avenue, holding signs and placards and garnering a few honks from vehicles passing by.

One of the youngest of the protesters, three-year-old Zayyan Anwar, was prompted by his mom to read his placard and cried out, "Stop killing people!"

Brothers Ashad and Zayyan Anwar came with their mother, a member of ICNA Sisters of Regina, to call out for peace and an end to atrocities in Myanmar. (CBC News)

Starting on Aug. 25, 2017, coordinated attacks by Myanmar's army and local militias on Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine state caused more than 700,000 members of the Muslim minority community to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. The UN's human rights chief has called it a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Sisters of Regina, along with the Rohinyga Human Rights Network, the Karen Community of Regina and Amnesty International Regina invited people to come out to join Saturday's protest.

The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Sisters of Regina brought out placards, with one member saying the group wanted to stand up in solidarity of all people and to promote peace. (CBC News)

A need to speak out

Agnes Parisloff and members of her church were among those who helped host Paw and her family when they arrived in Canada in 2006, helping them with things like groceries and learning to speak English.

"Canada has definitely made life easier for them," she said, adding that she also knows how heartbreaking it is for them to think about their homeland and the struggles faced by their fellow people living there. It's a situation she wants more Canadians to hear about.

"I think more people need to know and I think they need to be concerned — be concerned and speak out."

Paw hopes to be among those raising awareness of the situation in Myanmar. The 22-year-old is now studying International Studies at the University of Regina, and is passionate about the cause of human rights. The Rohingya and other persecuted ethnic minorities deserve democracy, not dictatorship, and the right not to live in fear, she said. 

"We want people to experience freedom, the freedom they were born with."