Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks with humanitarian workers at one of the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh on May 4, 2018 (Chrystia Freeland/Twitter)

Freeland visits Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh


Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says her visit to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh on Friday left her “more convinced than ever of the necessity of a comprehensive, international response to this tragedy.”

Freeland is on a four-day visit to Bangladesh where she will address the upcoming 45th Session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers in Dhaka on the unfolding Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh

During her tour of the camps in the Cox’s Bazar region of southeastern Bangladesh, Freeland visited the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital where she discussed the challenges of treating major health needs of the Rohingya refugees and commended them on the progress made in treating the most vulnerable, including survivors of sexual violence, officials with Global Affairs Canada tweeted.

‘Scars of unspeakable trauma’

Rohingya refugees Mohamed Heron, 6, and his brother Mohamed Akter, 4, pose for a portrait to show burns on their bodies at Kutupalong refugee camp, near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, October 14, 2017. Boys’ uncle Mohamed Inus said burns resulted from Myanmar’s armed forces firing rockets at their village. (Jorge Silva/File/ REUTERS)

The camps are home to nearly 900,000 minority Muslim Rohingyas , who have fled a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign in Rakine State in neighbouring Myanmar, also known as Burma.

“Rohingya refugees bear the scars of unspeakable trauma at the hands of their oppressors,” Freeland tweeted on her personal Twitter account. “Every day, more are arriving at camps in Bangladesh. Their stories must be heard. Those responsible must be held to account.”

In another tweet, Freeland thanked humanitarian NGOs and UN agencies, such as the MSF, the UN migration and refugee agencies and the Red Cross working to address the plight of the Rohingya.

“I leave Cox’s Bazar more convinced than ever of the necessity of a comprehensive, international response to this tragedy,” she said.

Foreign ministers to discuss the Rohingya crisis

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland chairs a meeting of her counterparts from France, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy and the European Union during a Foreign Ministers’ Working session discussing the Middle East, in Toronto on Sunday, April 22, 2018. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

On Saturday, Freeland will become the first minister from a non-member country to addresses the Session of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers, the 57-member body that is seen as the collective voice of the Muslim world.

“We are eager to discuss how we can take action with OIC partners to support the Rohingya, who faced unspeakable persecution and who have been the victims of crimes against humanity,” Freeland said in a statement.

Along with international partners, Canada will work to establish a clear pathway towards accountability for the atrocities and human rights violations committed in Rakhine State and coordinate efforts to build lasting peace in Myanmar, Freeland added.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland interacts with Rohingya refugee children in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh (Christia Freeland/Twitter)

She will be accompanied by Bob Rae, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, and Ambassador Masud Husain, Canada’s Special Envoy to the OIC.

Last month, Rae unveiled his final report into the crisis, calling on Canada to take a leadership role in responding to the needs of the Rohingya Muslim minority fleeing a brutal crackdown led by Burmese security forces in the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.

“Canada’s response should focus on providing humanitarian assistance, education, supporting infrastructure, and mitigating the impact of the violent deportation on Rohingya women and girls by providing strong support to UN and other international organizations working in camps and elsewhere,” Rae said in his report unveiled on April 3.

“Education in particular should become a priority for our longer-term approach.”

The report, entitled Tell them we’re human, also calls on Canada to develop a multi-year funding plan estimated by Rae to cost about $150 million for the next four years.

Monsoon rains coming

Rohingya refugees try to take shelter from torrential rain as they are held by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) after illegally crossing the border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, August 31, 2017. (Mohammad Ponir Hossain/REUTERS)

Freeland’s visit also comes as the United Nations and humanitarian NGOs are scrambling to prepare for the beginning of the monsoon season that is expected to wreak havoc in the camps built on hilly terrain vulnerable to landslides and flash floods.

The United Nation’s International Organization for Migration estimates that at least 150,000 Rohingya in the Cox’s Bazar face life-threatening risks from landslides and floods, and thousands more are at risk of disease and being cut off from assistance.

The UN’s joint response plan launched in March calls for $951 million US to assist 1.3 million people, including 884,000 Rohingya refugees and 336,000 host community members.

Freeland has meetings with various Bangladeshi government officials to discuss further steps to address this dire situation, Global Affairs said in a press-release.

Since the beginning of 2017, Ottawa has provided more than $45.9 million to deliver the desperately needed humanitarian assistance to thousands of people in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

In addition, individual Canadians have raised $12.5 million for the Myanmar Crisis Relief Fund, set up to respond to the Rohingya crisis.

Categories: Immigration & Refugees, International, Politics
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