Vancouverites urge Ottawa to do more for Rohingya refugees

By Lisa Tanh with reports from Danica Walker

Vancouverites are calling out to the federal government to do more to help with the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Last month, the federal government announced the launch of its Myanmar Crisis Relief Fund, in response to the ongoing violence in Myanmar that has resulted in the exodus of at least 600,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh. As part of the fund, the government is matching individual donations made to registered charities that are raising money for the refugees between Aug. 25 and Nov. 28. Sabrina Meherally, a Vancouverite and co-organizer of the Stand Up For Rohingya fundraiser that raised $100,000 to date, said it is unfortunate that the announcement was made midway during the matching period.

“The announcement came out on Oct. 31,” Meherally said. “It would have been better for the announcement to have been made in advance of the matching period, so that it [gives] people ample time to contribute funds during that window.”

Meherally also said that while raising money will always help, creating awareness is key to addressing immediate needs.

“There’s [another] problem as to what’s going on in Myanmar right now: the influx of refugees that are coming in and the support and infrastructure that is requiring Bangladesh to take care of that. That needs to be handled at a political level. That cannot be dealt with through only aid organizations.”

Tasleem Dhanji, another Vancouverite and co-organizer of the Stand Up For Rohingya fundraiser, said while change does occur through grassroot, it needs to come from government.

“There has to be a very strong, directional commitment [from] the Canadian government and international partners to take this stance and to come together,” Dhanji said. “Again, [change] needs to come from the government, our MPS, people who represent us with a strong voice.”

Yasmine Ullah, a Rohingya refugee who spoke at the Stand Up For Rohingya fundraiser, said the federal government should target sanctions against Myanmar’s military who repeatedly deny reports of murder, rape and destruction.

“Because of how big Canada is and how much weight we have when we say something, it is crucial to step forward and say ‘We’re going to target the sanctions against these generals because all of their prodigies, children, grandchildren are studying outside of Myanmar and have properties and investments outside of Myanmar,” Ullah said in an interview.

Ullah said it is a responsibility that the federal government should not escape from.

“Although we are in a different part of the world, we cannot dodge the responsibility as a global citizen. It’s just a matter of trying to lobby and push the government to see the importance of these lives,” Ullah said.

Recently, Meherally and Dhanji started an e-petition[1] to encourage the federal government “to intervene more intentionally, put an end to the genocidal regime, hold Myanmar accountable for its crimes against humanity and to ensure the safety of refugees.” They are aiming to gather at least 1,000 signatures by Dec. 4.

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