TORONTO (CCN) — As the federal government announced a matching fund to help more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees, Canada’s Catholic humanitarian aid and development agency was already on the ground in Bangladesh delivering aid to desperate people in Cox’s Bazar.
The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has partnered with Caritas Bangladesh to meet the immediate needs of the Muslim refugees pushed out of the majority Buddhist country of Myanmar, also known as Burma. The Canadian arm of Caritas has already contributed $50,000 to fund Caritas Bangladesh’s food distribution, helping close to 25,000 people, the organization said in a press release.
All donations to Development and Peace made between Aug. 25 and Nov. 28 specifically for the Rohingya refugees will be eligible for government of Canada matching funds. So far this year the Canadian government has committed over $25 million for humanitarian aid in Bangladesh and Myanmar separate from the matching fund.
Overcrowding in the refugee camps has led local health officials to ask the Bangladesh government to approve a plan to offer voluntary sterilization in the camps.
Canada’s Myanmar Crisis Relief Fund will prioritize funding to projects that serve pregnant women and single mothers, who are among the most vulnerable in the refugee camps.
Development and Peace has a program officer in Cox’s Bazar talking with the dozens of NGOs working there about projects where the Canadians can help. Development and Peace worked with Caritas India in the aftermath of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which translates into established contacts in the region, said Development and Peace spokesperson Kelly Di Domenico.
As a closed society dominated by its military, independent humanitarian and development work inside Myanmar is “very difficult,” said Di Domenico. Development and Peace is in contact with Caritas Myanmar concerning the Rohingya crisis.
Development and Peace has also partnered with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Banmaw, near Myanmar’s border with China, schooling displaced Kachin children. The Kachin minority, many of them Catholic, have also been under pressure from Myanmar’s military in disputes over hydro-electric projects, jade mines, gold and timber.
“We will definitely evaluate what is possible,” inside Myanmar, Di Domenico said.
The federal government appointed former Ontario Premier Bob Rae as special envoy to Myanmar to investigate the fate of ethnic minorities.