Madam Speaker, Canada is gravely concerned by the continuing crisis in Myanmar and its impact on neighbouring Bangladesh. Since the August 25 attacks by domestic militants on security outposts, almost 480,000 Rohingya have fled the northern Rakhine State to seek safety in neighbouring Bangladesh, adding to the hundreds of thousands who have made the crossing over recent decades. Arrivals over the past few weeks have largely comprised women and children, including pregnant women. As many as 1,500 children have been born during the last 20 days in the Rohingya camps.
With the help of the international community, including Canada, the Government of Bangladesh is temporarily hosting the tidal wave of displaced persons from what is called “ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar and the violence propagated by anti-Rohingya sentiment in the Rakhine State. I have personally received countless emails and calls from my constituents and from people all across Ottawa and Canada voicing their concerns about the violence in Myanmar.
I would like to highlight two organizations that have shown support for the Rohingya people. Human Concern International and the South Nepean Muslim Community, SNMC, in my riding have been working to raise awareness and funds for managing the ongoing crisis. Additionally, a protest on October 1 is being organized on Parliament Hill by several organizations in Ottawa.
One of my constituents, Mr. Richard Harmston of South Asia Partnership Canada, sent me a long list of civil society organizations that have delivered a very important message on this pressing issue of the Rohingya refugees and the plight of the Rohingya in Burma, now Myanmar. These organizations include the Burmese Muslim Association, the Canada Tibet Committee, the Canadian Federation of University Women, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, the National Union of Public and General Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada's Social Justice Fund, the Rohingya Association of Canada, the Unifor Social Justice Fund, USC Canada, and World University Service of Canada.
As of September 25, the new arrivals are being accommodated in makeshift settlements or camps in host communities and in spontaneous new sites springing up mainly in and around Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. All of them are in urgent need of food, water, shelter, sanitation, medication, and other basic necessities of life. Lack of hygiene is a great challenge needing prompt attention, lest it contribute to disease, including an outbreak of cholera that is threatening. Substantial relief efforts are under way by the international community, including NGOs and the Government of Bangladesh, to help these vulnerable people.
Imagine for a moment having to look after the population of Halifax showing up in the span of just four weeks. Without all hands working together, this humanitarian crisis has the potential of becoming a major disaster. Bangladesh's hospitality is laudable, especially when one considers that this country is one of the most densely populated nations in the world, with more than 161 million people on a land mass about twice the size of New Brunswick. It is a least-developed country, with approximately 30 million people living on just $1.90 U.S. per day. The majority of people live in rural areas and the countryside is prone to natural disasters, such as cyclones and severe flooding.
Canada has been active during this time of great need in Bangladesh, a country it was among the first to recognize at independence in 1971. Moved by the scale of the current catastrophe and the imperative that countries should not face a crisis of this magnitude alone, Canada has stood by Bangladesh in its pursuit of a peaceful resolution of the violent situation and as it provides succour to the displaced Rohingya.
Politically, Canada has been unequivocal and seeks a voluntary return of the displaced Rohingya population to their rightful homes. We have called for the immediate cessation of hostilities in Myanmar and have urged the military and civilian authorities to fulfill their responsibilities to protect civilians and respond to their basic needs. We have also called for immediate access to Rakhine State for humanitarian actors and the timely implementation of the “Final Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State”, chaired by Kofi Annan, in order to address the root causes of this current crisis.
Given the scale of humanitarian need in southern Bangladesh, the Government of Canada was quick to respond with an initial allocation to help meet the life-saving needs of the newly arrived asylum seekers. This includes $3.35 million to our humanitarian partners in Bangladesh to address the most pressing needs of those affected by the crisis, including access to nutrition, shelter, water, and sanitation. This brings Canada's 2017 humanitarian assistance response to crisis-affected people, including the Rohingya, to a total of $9.18 million in Bangladesh and Myanmar. Our assistance is aimed at helping all those in need in accordance with the local context, regardless of ethnic or religious identity. Canada stands ready to respond further, as is appropriate and possible in light of changing conditions on the ground.
Canada has had a long-standing development relationship with Bangladesh. The country is one of our most important development partners, with Canadian contributions amounting to over $4 billion to date. Bangladesh has made important development gains with Canada's and other donors' assistance. The incidence of poverty has steadily declined, and the gross domestic product growth rate has averaged a healthy 6% per year.
Bangladesh has further made considerable progress in health and education, and it is a top performer in reducing maternal and under-five mortality.
Canada's development assistance in Bangladesh has focused on strengthening the delivery of health and education systems and promoting governance and human rights. Our efforts have also supported reducing child, early, and forced marriage; addressing climate change; and food security-themed programming.
Major Canadian non-governmental organizations have been working in Bangladesh for many years and have established long-standing partnerships that will continue to serve us well beyond the support we have already provided, addressing violence against women, needs of the disabled, civil society and democratic participation, community development, agriculture and food security, higher education, and microfinance.
In conclusion, Canada firmly believes that a modern state must promote, protect, and serve the interests of all of its nationals and build societies that respect human rights, religious freedoms, and inclusive governance. We will continue to work with the Government of Bangladesh and international donors to help ensure that the shock of this most recent humanitarian crisis will not derail the progress to which Bangladesh has committed itself in terms of providing prosperity and democratic freedoms for all of its people, of achieving middle-income status in short order, and of asserting its role as a progressive force in the community of nations.