Trudeau expresses concern over possible return of Rohingya to Myanmar

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s worried about a proposed repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, the very country they fled citing rape and murder.

1st group was supposed to start moving Thursday

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question from the media during an availability in Singapore, Thursday, November 15, 2018. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's worried about a proposed repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar, the very country they fled citing rape and murder.

Bangladesh has been preparing to repatriate a first wave of about 2,200 Rohingya to Myanmar, as part of an agreed-upon plan. United Nations officials and international organizations have called the return unsafe due to ongoing violence in Myanmar. 

"Simple repatriations without the kinds of assurances and support for the Rohingya themselves is not necessarily the best solution. They fled because of fears of violence and because of actual violence," Trudeau told reporters on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Singapore.

"To return them without proper support and proper protections would be a challenge, and that's why we need to be sure that we are continuing to work with international humanitarian organizations, with the United Nations and like-minded partners to keep people safe."

The UN has called for Myanmar military leaders to be prosecuted for genocide against Rohingya Muslims, something the country refutes.

Trudeau said he has raised the issue with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but while he saw her at the ASEAN summit, he "didn't actually have a conversation."

"Canada has been very preoccupied from the beginning with the Rohingya crisis. This is something that is representing a significant humanitarian catastrophe," he said.

No movement yet

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau have also expressed concerns. 

A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said the government is open to working with the government of Bangladesh and the UNHCR about potentially resettling refugees.

"Canada has signalled to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) its willingness to resettle Rohingya refugees from within Bangladesh once partners in the region confirm that conditions are conducive to facilitate the safe movement of people," said Guillaume Bérubé.

The repatriation of the first group was supposed to start Thursday, although Myanmar officials say so far, no refugees have been moved back across the border. 

Rohingya refugees Sitara Begum with her son Mohammed Abbas, who are in the list for repatriation wait in their shelter at Jamtoli refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on Thursday. (Dar Yasin/Associated Press)

Bangladesh has promised not to force anyone to return and has asked the UNHCR to make sure those on the list to return actually want to.

The plan sparked protests in the refugee camps with hundreds of refugees chanting "no, no, we won't go" and waving placards that said, "We will never return to Myanmar without our citizenship."

Tens of thousands of Rohingya are believed dead and more than 700,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they have been living in squalid and overcrowded refugee camps.

In September, Parliament voted unanimously to strip Suu Kyi of her honorary Canadian citizenship for failing to stop the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people.

With files from the Canadian Press, Reuters and the CBC's Kathleen Harris.