The Canadian Rohingya
Canada hosts several hundred stateless Rohingya people who have fled persecution in Burma.
The Rohingya are arguably the world’s most persecuted people.
Aside from their formal exclusion by Myanmar’s military government, there are a myriad of less evident ways the Rohingya, an ethnic, linguistic and religious minority have been marginalized, specifically in relation to the color of their skin, their religion, and their identity.
Many other ethnic minorities have suffered at the hands of Myanmar’s oppressive military regime, but the Rohingya’s very existence is threatened. Recently thousands have fled by boat, hoping to land safely in neighboring countries, only to find themselves facing death as they are pushed back out to sea.
For too many years the international community has been, for the most part silent – and in spite of recent international attention to their plight, the Burmese authorities have showed no sign of changing their ways.
In 2006, five families of Rohingya were selected by the Canadian Government to resettle here. This made us the first country to formally resettle Rohingya, and many other developed countries have followed this lead.
Today there are over 300 Rohingya living in Canada and over a third of them live in the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario.
Nur Hashim, who heads the Canadian Burmese Rohingya Organization, came here in 2007.
“We will always be thankful to Canada. We have no words to give thanks. Still we are very sorry for our people in Myanmar. Here we can buy fish and meat, and there they have nothing.”
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“I continue to work for my community here and in Burma. I try to be an ambassador and advocate for our cause. It is important that Canadian society knows what is going on.”
“I love drawing and playing dress up. My dream is to be a doctor and have a big house.”
“Why is it that in Canada many religions can coexist but not in Burma? In my country the call to prayer is banned, religious schools are banned, Arabic school is banned, and they can’t build new mosques nor can they renovate the many that have been destroyed.”
“Saa (Tea) is important to our culture. We like hospitality, and serving guests. It is a sign of respect.”
“1992 is when I fled to Bangladesh with my family. After three months they started forced repatriation back to Burma. They arrested my husband and my five year old started crying for Dad. The police hit him with his gun, and later my child died.
I had to sell the few belongings I had to pay for my husband’s release. But when I went to the prison he wasn’t there. The rumour was that he was dead.
At the Nayapera refugee camp they again wanted me to go back to Burma. I pleaded that I was waiting to see if my husband was alive. They gave me two weeks, and then I was forced back to Burma with my forty day old child. In Burma I had nobody… everyone I had was in refugee camps. After six months I travelled three days back to the border with Bangladesh and crossed.
While at the Gondun refugee camp with my sister in law, my situation was reported to the UNHCR and they gave me support, while I waited there patiently for my husband. Finally, after almost two years, I discovered that he was alive.
Now we have seven children. My eldest is 24 and youngest is 6. I hope one day they will be police officers and lawyers.”
“If I was in Myanmar I would have been killed by now. Here I am safe. My only hope is that my brothers and sisters can join me here someday.”
“I want to be a soccer player.”
“I keep my great grandfather’s family list document safe because it shows that we are Rohingya, Muslims and Myanmarese from Arakan State.”
“Aside from my ambition to become a successful businessman, I want to live a life where I get involved in helping others… not just our people.”
“I love playing soccer and basketball. FC Barcelona and the Chicago Bulls are my favourite teams. When I grow up I would love to be some type of doctor or maybe a fashion designer.”
Mom: “He likes Candy… He was born here, so he’s our Canadian!”
“We feel like our people are caught between two big liars. If we go to Bangladesh we are told we are Rohingya from Myanmar, and if we go to Myanmar we are told we are Bengali. Here in Canada I’m trying to develop a life here with my wife and children. My one son is still in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, and that brings me a lot of sadness.”
“My favourite thing is family dinner. My favourite foods are fries and ketchup.”
“Abul Bosher was a Member of Parliament and Parliamentary Secretary in Burma from 1901 – 1991. He is a symbol of the Rohingya and proof of our history in Burma.”
“On the one hand I am happy to be here in Canada, and happy to see my four kids alive and getting a good education, but on the other I am so concerned for the people dying… in the street, jungle, seas. I have been depressed since I was young.. I’ve seen so many atrocities.
Here I can express my opinion regarding the story of our people freely. My family were victims of forced labour: poor people doing labour for free. My father and my brother would be taken away in the night and made to carry rations, construct buildings or do the night watch. Many people died.
Still today my family has to give rice to the authorities for free just to keep their property. Even if our people are educated, they are jobless. My cousin graduated from university, but he has no job.”