News / Toronto

'It is like a nightmare': Torontonians fear for their families in Myanmar

More than 370,000 Rohingyas have fled the country in fear of brutal military rule, and reports from the United Nations warn of ethnic cleansing.

Zaw Kyaw is concerned about the safety of his family members in Myanmar.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Zaw Kyaw is concerned about the safety of his family members in Myanmar.

Zaw Kyaw's immediate family moved to Toronto many years ago, but his uncles, aunts and cousins are still in Myanmar, trapped among the rising violence.

"It is like a nightmare," he said about witnessing the escalation from afar. One of his cousins was recently caught up in the chaos in Rakhine, an epicentre of the fighting since late last month.

"She was so scared when I spoke to her on the phone the next day. She said many people are hiding in forests waiting for any kind of rescue."

Kyaw is one of thousands of Myanmar-Canadians watching desperately as their native country descends into violence. More than 370,000 Rohingyas have fled the country in fear of brutal military rule, and reports from the United Nations warn of ethnic cleansing.

Human-rights organizations have accused the government's military of setting villages on fire and killing hundreds of civilians. The Rohingya — a Muslim minority group in a country dominated by Buddhism — have endured years of discrimination, as the Myanmar government contends they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

"Both Muslims and non-Muslims used to live together in peace," Kyaw said. "There is no reason we shouldn't co-exist."

Kyaw is part of the Canadian Burma Ethnic Nationalities Organization, which recently wrote to Canada's foreign affairs minister to appeal for an intervention to protect civilians' lives, regardless of their religion. They're especially concerned about the "voiceless and forgetten non Muslim minority" people, such as Mro, Rakhine, Dinet and Hindu groups.

"We ask you to please do something in the name of humanity and fairness," reads part of the letter, dated Aug. 31.

Timothy Thu, who moved to Toronto about 10 years ago and maintains regular contact with family members back in Myanmar, said the rest of the world should come to the rescue of this most vulnerable population.

"I ran away and escaped from my country," he said, noting the Myanmar diaspora is pressing local MPs to speak up on behalf of their country. "We cannot go back to the military government. No one wants any more civil war."

To help:

Donation drives are planned for this Saturday at the Markham Convention Centre and Sunday at the Red Rose Convention Centre in Mississauga. More information is available at islamicreliefcanada.org.

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