'I'll never stop fighting' says Kitchener Rohingya man after 2-week stint in Bangladesh camps

Ahmed Ullah says the experience was a horrifying nightmare, far worse than the 15 years he spent in refugee camps before moving to Canada in 2009.

Ahmed Ullah hopes to pressure government to take more action amid Rohingya crisis

Ahmed Ullah says the experience was a horrifying nightmare, far worse than the 15 years he spent in refugee camps before moving to Canada in 2009. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Amid the despair and hunger of a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, Ahmed Ullah watched as a young girl snuck into a food line.

The Canadian aid worker looked on as the orphaned child — just five-years-old, with mental disabilities — tried to get something to eat.

Instead, she was beaten by members of the Bangladeshi military.

"They're treating them worse than animals," Ullah says.

The Kitchener, Ont. resident spent two weeks helping Rohingya refugees in camps near Cox's Bazar, a city and fishing port in south-eastern Bangladesh.

A Rohingya himself, Ullah says the experience was a horrifying nightmare, far worse than the 15 years he spent in refugee camps before moving to Canada in 2009.

Crowds of hungry children swarmed his car at the camps, he recalls, knocking on the windows for food, money — anything to help them survive. And, for many families, draped plastic was their only shelter.

The camps are crowded, filled with people in need of food and shelter, says Ahmed Ullah. (Provided by Ahmed Ullah)

At one point, Ullah was injured in a car accident during the trip, and watched as a woman cried for a help and a man died in front of him while he was waiting for care at a hospital. Even though his injuries were minor, Ullah says he was treated before the refugees.

"As soon as you have this," Ullah says, tapping his Canadian passport, "everybody just treats you all the way up there... I was the priority."

Sitting near the arrivals gate at Pearson Airport after returning to Canada on Friday night, the 24-year-old says he's on a mission to expose the plight of his fellow Rohingya Muslim refugees, members of a long-persecuted religious minority who are fleeing Myanmar.

Since late August, more than 580,000 refugees have arrived in Bangladesh, driven from their neighbour to the east by violence — a situation denounced by both the United Nations and Amnesty International.

But amid the growing global outcry, a CBC News investigation recently found there are signs several UN figures and other international actors, including a key Canadian official, have been hesitant to pressure Myanmar on the rights of the Rohingya. 

There are also allegations that some officials ignored warnings of ethnic cleansing altogether, something the UN has rejected.

Ahmed Ullah hugs a man inside a refugee camp in Bangladesh. (Provided by Ahmed Ullah)

'They're beating women. They're beating children.'

Regardless of how the crisis began, it has now led to crowded camps and starving families, a situation Ullah believes is even worse than it appears. Bangladeshi support for the refugees is a facade, he alleges, while military violence is the reality.

"They're beating women. They're beating children," he says, his eyes glassy and voice breaking.

Ullah smeared mud on his clothes and tried to blend in with the Rohingya refugees, avoiding the watchful eye of military guards and wandering through areas of the camps typically cut off from international media.

While walking through a camp, Ahmed Ullah spotted a young girl, starving and sleeping on a mat outside. (Provided by Ahmed Ullah)

Swiping through photos on his phone of those unnerving walks, he points out one girl he found asleep, half-clothed on a mat outside. "Nobody should be living in a condition like that," he says.

Ullah says he plans to meet with Premier Kathleen Wynne in Kitchener on Monday, in hopes of sharing photos — "evidence" of the horrors within the camps — and to encourage the government to take more action.

"I will die with pride, if this is the last thing I do," he says. "I don't care what becomes of my life. I'll never stop fighting."


Lauren Pelley

Senior Health & Medical Reporter

Lauren Pelley covers health and medical science for CBC News, including the global spread of infectious diseases, Canadian health policy, and pandemic preparedness. Her 2020 investigation into COVID-19 infections among health-care workers won best in-depth series at the RNAO Media Awards. Contact her at: