Saifullah Muhammed and David Morler
People are resilient, we say. But now, in the middle of a growing refugee crisis that has left nearly 700,000 people without a home and living with the trauma of horrific violence, that feels trite.
The Rohingya people have no choice but to be strong. The other option is death, despair and destruction. Every one of the hundreds of thousands of people living in camps in Bangladesh has seen more than enough of that – so they make the life they can.
The challenge is not for them — it is for Canadians. How to find inspiration and reason and energy to reach half way around the world and help.
The monsoons are coming, as they do each year. We fear for those in the camps – the plastic roofs bowing under the weight of water, the sandy soil turning to mud, the drainage ditches overflowing. A natural disaster on top of a man-made disaster.
People there see a role for Canada. The recent report from Canada’s Special Envoy on the Rohingya Crisis makes strong calls for more humanitarian assistance, more support to education and child protection, and humanitarian access into Myanmar (where there are still hundreds of thousands of Rohingya). It gives colleagues, friends and family there hope — hope that a major country is calling for serious action on this issue. With the G7 in Canada this year, there is an opportunity for movement.
This is the time to act. Before children miss out on years of education. Before poverty gives way to criminal activity. Before a region is destabilized.
We can build on those things that have been getting better. The number of malnourished children is declining. Successful vaccination campaigns have meant serious disease outbreaks were avoided. The camps hum with activity as people carry bamboo through the lanes and across newly built bridges over reinforced drainage canals. Maybe all this is resilience, and that isn’t trite at all.
Debate now centres on whether the unspeakable acts that happened in Myanmar can be considered genocide. For Rohingya children, the question is an abstraction. We’ve heard them tell us they were forced to watch men and boys being separated and killed; children and babies slaughtered; mothers and sisters raped; houses and villages burned to the ground.
They describe hiding in the forest, crossing rivers, trekking for days without food and water, carrying siblings not much smaller than themselves. In UNICEF Child Friendly Spaces, they draw helicopters, guns, fires, machetes, death.
That debate must continue, but right now Rohingya children need action, not words. An end to the violence. Humanitarian assistance and protection. And when feasible, a voluntary, safe and dignified return to their homes.
Several hundred Rohingya now call Canada home, but the oceans between do little to distance them from the suffering of family and friends. They only add to the sense of responsibility to speak up, to act and to hope their new home will embrace their old.
These are the survivors of an atrocity – everyone carrying the burden of a trauma. Everyone with a remarkable will to live. Even though it is hard to imagine a future, they, we, still look ahead – but coming towards us we see the monsoon.