News / Toronto

'Offer these people a home:' Canada urged to accept Rohingya refugees

Pitasanna Shanmugathas, a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto, wants to see the country do for Rohingya refugees what it has done for Syrians in recent years.

Pitasanna Shanmugathas at the University of Toronto campus. Pitasanna has the backing of an MP to launch a bid for the federal government to open borders to Rohingya refugees.

Lance McMillan / For Metro

Pitasanna Shanmugathas at the University of Toronto campus. Pitasanna has the backing of an MP to launch a bid for the federal government to open borders to Rohingya refugees.

Canada is being asked to grant Rohingya refugees a home, the same way the country welcomed thousands of Syrians over the past two years.

Pitasanna Shanmugathas, a fourth-year political science and criminology student at the University of Toronto, has launched a petition at the House of Commons. The petition has secured the backing of Manitoba MP and NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton.

"These people have been deprived of citizenship in their own homeland and have been stateless and neglected for decades," said Shanmugathas. "It's a crisis happening so many miles away, but our governments need to act and offer these people a home."

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since last August after the government-backed military went on a killing rampage. The United Nations has called the events a "textbook case of ethnic cleansing," and human-rights advocates around the world have warned a genocide may be underway.

Myanmar-Canadians and advocates have called on the government to take a strong stand in helping protect the Rohingya and end the crisis, including the creation of a UN-backed peacekeeping mission and a safe zone for refugees. However, this is the first time Canada has been openly asked to welcome refugees here.

Shanmugathas, a Sri Lankan of Tamil origin whose parents moved to Canada in the 1990s while fleeing a civil war, said an attack on minorities anywhere hits close to home for him.

"I can draw a connection to my own history," he said.

Part of the petition asks Canada to revoke the honorary citizenship granted to Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been accused of turning a blind eye to the atrocities.

"She has completely become a hypocrite," Shanmugathas said. "She's very much complicit in the ethnic cleansing going on and has disregarded the Canadian values."

How to help:

The petition can be found by searching "E-1282" at petitions.ourcommons.ca

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