Rohingya refugees, newly arrived by boat from strife-torn Myanmar, sit on a beach in neighbouring Bangladesh, September 7. Photo: © UNICEF/UN0120423/Brown

The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) is contributing $20,000 to a planned food assistance program for the Rohingya people of Myanmar, victims of what a United Nations official has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the country’s military.

More than half a million Rohingya are reported to have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after a brutal military crackdown against Rohingya insurgents in Rakhine state August 25. The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim minority living in mostly Buddhist Myanmar.

The Anglican Church of Canada’s relief and development agency announced Monday, October 2 it would put the money toward a food program operated by World Renew, a relief and development ministry of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The funds, PWRDF said, will come out of its equity with Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a partnership of 15 Canadian churches and church-based agencies that pool their donations. (Members accumulate “equity” in the bank through the donations they have made to it.)

World Renew staff are working on the program together with the Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh, an aid agency that, like PWRDF, belongs to the ACT Alliance, a network of faith-based relief groups.

Naba Gurung, PWRDF’s humanitarian response co-ordinator, said he hoped the program would be operating in mid-October.

According to PWRDF, Myanmar government tactics have included the burning of villages and the rape and murder of Rohingya civilians. Most of the Rohingya who have fled are now reported to be living in overburdened refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.

The crisis has led some to criticize Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the former Myanmar dissident and Nobel Peace Prize recipient who now heads the country, for ignoring the plight of the Rohingya. In a September 12 speech, Aung San Suu Kyi said the military had been “instructed to adhere strictly to the code of conduct in carrying out security operations, to exercise all due restraint and to take full measures to avoid collateral damage and the harming of innocent civilians.”

Together with 29 other groups and 12 individuals, PWRDF endorsed a statement on the crisis in Myanmar released September 26 by Inter Pares, a Canadian-based social justice organization. The statement, among other things, calls for the Canadian government to “use all diplomatic channels” to pressure Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar government to stop the fighting, protect the rights of the Rohingya and condemn the actions of the Myanmar military.

Last month, Nobel laureate and retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged Aung San Suu Kyi to intervene in the escalating crisis, saying, “If the political price to your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”

“A country that is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people, is not a free country,” the 85-year-old Tutu said in a letter posted on social media.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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