Mr. Speaker, Canada is extremely concerned about the ongoing crisis in the Rakhine State in Myanmar and the collateral effects it is having on the country's neighbour, Bangladesh. Continuing violence against the Rohingya and other minorities considerably limits humanitarian access. Every day, it threatens and limits the delivery of vital aid for the victims of this ethnic cleansing.
In Myanmar, significant numbers of people, both Rohingya and Rakhine, are currently displaced in northern Rakhine State. In addition, more than 120,000 Rohingya people remain in camps, displaced by the violence of 2012. Many of these individuals rely heavily on humanitarian assistance to survive, but have been without this lifesaving assistance for many weeks. The humanitarian needs become exponentially more urgent every day.
Canada commends Bangladesh for its efforts to assist those who are fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar. Bangladesh is currently facing considerable challenges in offering basic services to a huge number of people, many of whom have urgent humanitarian needs.
Without additional international aid, another catastrophe could develop amidst this crisis. There is a heightened risk of outbreaks of infectious diseases and those spread through contaminated water. What is more, there is also a possibility that the tension and violence will intensify in refugee camps.
Canada is continuing its tradition of providing rapid humanitarian aid that responds to needs on the ground. In reaction to the crisis, on September 7, the government made an initial contribution of $1 billion to respond to emerging needs and help our humanitarian partners quickly ramp up existing operations.
As the number of asylum seekers continues to grow, we made an additional contribution of $2.55 million on September 15, for a total of $3.5 million, in order to respond to this crisis. This contribution covers the delivery of food, dietary supplements, and temporary shelters. It also helps to provide clean drinking water and to set up sanitation infrastructure in order to prevent the spread of disease.
Our assistance is targeted specifically at the needs of women and girls and their sexual and reproductive health, particularly to help those who have suffered sexual violence and who too often fall through the cracks in situations of humanitarian crises.
Along with that contribution, Prime Minister Trudeau announced $4.3 million in funding last June to support peace and stability in Myanmar. These contributions will help protect human rights, support peace building, and promote women’s participation in the national peace process.
At the same time, it is important to point out that Canada has been contributing annual humanitarian aid for several years in order to help meet the needs of people affected by conflict in Bangladesh and Myanmar, including the Rohingya.
Earlier this year, Canada contributed $5.63 million in humanitarian aid to its partners in Myanmar and Bangladesh specifically to address the needs of the Rohingya people. Overall, Canada has contributed over $9 million in humanitarian assistance this year alone to those affected by the crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh. We are prepared to do even more as the situation on the ground evolves over time.
Earlier, I spoke about sexual and gender-based violence. I would like to comment further by reiterating that we are especially concerned about the effect of the current crisis on women and girls. They represent about 70% of the asylum seekers. Many of the women who have just arrived at these camps are pregnant or recently gave birth. Although we recognize the urgent need for basic humanitarian assistance, I want to point out to the House the importance of not neglecting sexual and reproductive health rights and services.
During my missions, I saw just how desperately these women in crisis situations need these services. Sexual and gender-based violence is very real. It leaves scars that we can never entirely erase, but that we can diminish if we are prepared to meet the specific needs of women and girls.
Last week, at the UN general Assembly, we asked the international community to give priority to the protection of the rights of women and girls and to ensure that sexual and reproductive health services are part of our response to this crisis.
Canada plans on being a leader in developing a feminist approach to international aid.
Humanitarian assistance, however, does not address the underlying conditions that contribute to crises such as discrimination against minorities, tensions between communities, and disproportionate responses of security forces. It cannot substitute for responsible political decision-making and military action. Alleged reports of the security forces imposing collective punishment upon ethnic Rohingya communities in northern Rakhine, including the unlawful killing of civilians and the burning of villages leading to mass displacement, are unacceptable.
Canada, along with partners in the international community, call upon military and civilian leadership to fulfill their responsibility to protect all civilians and respond to their basic needs in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law.
We remain very concerned about the threats against humanitarian workers in Myanmar. That is why we are asking all parties to respect the safety of those helping the vulnerable, regardless of their religion or their ethnic origin. Beyond the threats weighing on the humanitarian workers, the situation of humanitarian access in Rakhine State is especially difficult. Canada is calling on the military and civilian authorities in Myanmar to allow the quick, safe, and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief, in accordance with international law.
Humanitarian access is necessary for assessing the needs on the ground. To be able to intervene quickly in the crisis, humanitarian organizations, the international community, and the Government of Myanmar must have a full and impartial understanding of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State.
Promoting and protecting human rights, which includes freedom of religion or belief, is an integral part of Canada's leadership in the world. Canada shows that leadership by actively supporting the international fact-finding mission being independently led by the United Nations and mandated by the Human Rights Council in March 2017.
Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar underscores the continued need to shed light on the events in Rakhine State. Unfortunately, the Government of Myanmar is slow to fully cooperate in the fact-finding mission by giving it full and unfettered access.
During the United Nations General Assembly, I met with ministers from the main countries concerned about the situation in Myanmar. I clearly reiterated Canada's position on the current crisis, citing the tremendous repercussions it is having on women and children. I stated that the government of Myanmar urgently needed to put an end to the violence and allow humanitarian access. I also brought up the need to come up with long-term solutions that will guarantee the basic rights of every citizen of Rakhine State, including the implementation of the recommendations developed by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.
We remain in regular contact with our humanitarian partners and other governments as we stand ready to respond further in light of the conditions on the ground.
In closing, I would like to assure the House that the situation in Rakhine State is being taken very seriously. The goal of Canadian assistance is to preserve and elevate human dignity, and that is why we will continue to apply pressure to ensure safe, unhindered humanitarian access.