Canada to remain strong voice for Rohingya, says Karina Gould

Canada's Minister of International Development Karina Gould held up the "excellent" development cooperation between Bangladesh and Canada over the years and appreciated Bangladesh's contribution to the bilateral relationship.

"Canada and Bangladesh have a very long standing relationship and deep friendship. We have worked in development (area) for a very long time," she said in an exclusive interview with UNB's Director Nahar Khan.

The Canadian Minister highlighted the existing programmes and cooperation amid COVID-19 pandemic terming the bilateral relationship a very important one.

She also said her country will continue to be a strong voice in standing up for the human rights of the Rohingya people, and for peace to prevail in their lives.

The Canadian Minister said they remain engaged with the Rohingya crisis and will make sure that the international community continues to play an important role so Rohingyas can live in peace and security.

"We do remain committed to a political solution. We remain committed to working together with all parties to provide a peaceful solution to the crisis," Minister Gould said.

Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas and most of them entered Bangladesh since August 25, 2017 amid a military crackdown against them in Myanmar's Rakhine State.

A trickling influx of the Rohingya people into Bangladesh from Myanmar is still seen today. In April this year, members of the Bangladesh Coast Guard rescued 396 Rohingya people from a boat which was denied entry by Malaysia.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said the Rohingyas who arrived by boat recently are mostly registered with the Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar district. Meanwhile, Bangladesh sent a small group of Rohingyas, who entered Bangladesh recently from Myanmar in small boats, to Bhasan Char Island.

Responding to a question, Canadian Minister Gould said they are grateful to Bangladesh for being so welcoming towards the Rohingya people and recognise the "extraordinary efforts" of Bangladesh.

She mentioned that the Canadian parliament unanimously adopted a resolution recognising that the crimes committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar constitute genocide.

Minister Gould said Canada provided about $88 million in humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya refugees and also provided about $82 million in direct assistance to the host communities around Cox's Bazar recognising that it is important to support them at the same time.

Support Amid COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global threat that does not recognize borders and can only be overcome through coordinated action all around the world. The death toll and number of new patients are rising every day in Bangladesh. On June 12, Bangladesh recorded 46 deaths and 3,471 new cases, the highest in a single day.

The officially recorded death toll is now 1305 and the number of COVID-19 positive cases is 98,854 (as of June 17), according to the Directorate General of Health Services.

The first death of a Rohingya refugee, a 71 year-old male, from COVID-19 was confirmed on May 31. So far three Rohingyas died due to coronavirus at Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar district.

The World Health Organization, UNHCR and other government and non government organisations are working round the clock to ensure that testing is available to refugees, that those who are identified as COVID-19 positive have adequate facilities in place to care for them, and to ensure contact tracing and isolation of those who may have been exposed.

Canada continues to contribute to international efforts to address the ongoing pandemic by providing urgent and necessary funding, including to support those who are most vulnerable.

Asked about some of the measures at the global stage, the Canadian Minister said at the beginning of April, she was pleased to announce Canada's initial response to Covid-19 crisis by announcing $159.5 million to respond to both humanitarian needs as well as vaccine development. This investment includes $50 million announced by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier in March.

"Of the $159.5 million, $84.5 million was for the humanitarian response, primarily going through UN agencies and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies," she said.

Responding to a question on Canada's support for Bangladesh to deal with the COVID-19, Minister Gould said in addition to the existing programme that they have, Canada provided an initial top up to try and assist both with testing and laboratory capacity throughout the country.

"And a specific top up for the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar," she said.

The Canadian Minister said the most important strategy to help contain the spread of the virus is to make sure that there is adequate testing with laboratory capacity as well.

Global Vaccine Summit

While discussing the Global Vaccine Summit held in London recently with Nahar Khan, Minister Gould said, "We're all really encouraged and pleased by the Vaccine Summit that took place."

She laid emphasis on working together to achieve the goals ahead and Agenda 2030 - ensuring access to healthcare services for everyone.

World leaders pledged an additional US$ 8.8 billion for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, far exceeding the target of US$ 7.4 billion at the summit.

The funding will help immunise 300 million more children in the world's poorest countries against diseases like measles, polio and diphtheria by the end of 2025. It will also support health systems to withstand the impact of coronavirus and maintain the infrastructure necessary to roll out a future COVID-19 vaccine on a global scale.

Representatives from 52 countries, including 35 Heads of State, joined leaders from global health organisations, the private sector, vaccine manufacturers and civil society organisations to support the Vaccine Alliance's work protecting almost half the world's children against deadly, preventable infectious diseases.

Gavi, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have warned that 80 million children under the age of one are at risk of disease due to disruptions to vital immunisation programmes because of COVID-19.

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