Vancouver Rohingya community fundraising for crisis in Myanmar
“It’s an open prison and you’re not allowed to do anything at all."
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Surrey resident Yasmin Ullah counts herself as one of the lucky ones. Her family left their homeland, in Rakhine, Myanmar when she was three years old but her relatives are still trapped there, in what some world leaders are calling a genocide.
More than 400,000 people have been forced from their homes in Myanmar and those that remain face the possibility of torture and death. Ullah’s 70-year old grandmother, who can barely stand, had to hide in the mountains when the soldiers came.
“My uncle had to hold her while they were fleeing. My aunt, she’s got two babies of her own and my uncle’s wife is very pregnant – due anytime. That’s the kind of trauma that is going on,” said Ullah.
“They are lucky they are still alive, thank god.”
Ullah, 25, grew up in a refugee camp in Thailand before coming to Canada as a refugee in 2011.
She estimates there are fewer than 100 Rohingya families in Vancouver, but the small community has been deeply affected by what humanitarians characterize as ethnic cleansing in their homeland.
“What we really need is more awareness to be raised and for people to talk more about it. The less we talk about it, the more people who will die there,” she said.
Rohingya, a minority group in Myanmar, have faced persecution for decades. They are forced to stay in slums and women live in constant fear of being raped and young men are targets for violence whenever they step outside the home, said Ullah.
“It’s an open prison and you’re not allowed to do anything at all,” she said.
"We as Rohingya are not considered human, there. Not only are we not citizens, we are not even humans, to them.”
On Aug. 25, Ullah’s relatives called to say soldiers were burning their village to the ground.
Most fundraising efforts are focused on helping those in Rohingya refugee camps that have sprung up in nearby Bangladesh, but Ullah’s family has been able to funnel some money into Rakhine to help those left behind.
Ullah has raised $6,000 so far and is continuing to collect donations via her launchgood campaign, called Help Rohingya in Crisis in Burma.