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Canada’s strategy to respond to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh (2018 to 2021)

This phase ended in 2021

This phase of Canada’s response to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh ended in 2021. Learn more about our continuing efforts in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

In October 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed the Honourable Bob Rae as Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar. Special Envoy Rae released his report in April 2018, outlining the underlying causes of the Rohingya crisis. The report provided a number of recommendations to the Government of Canada. Based on this report, Prime Minister Trudeau announced Canada’s Strategy to Respond to the Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh in May 2018.

This response dedicated $300 million of international assistance over 3 years to address 4 key objectives:

  • alleviating the humanitarian crisis
  • encouraging positive political developments in Myanmar
  • ensuring accountability for the crimes committed
  • enhancing international cooperation

Results achieved

For information on projects supported as part of Canada’s Strategy to Respond to the Rohingya Crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh, including results achieved through these projects, visit our Project Browser.

Alleviating the humanitarian crisis

Canada’s assistance under this strategy helped meet the needs of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and the communities hosting them, as well as the Rohingya and other conflict-affected people in Myanmar.

Canada’s response took into consideration the impact of the crisis on the needs and rights of women and girls and supported programming that integrated those needs into multi-sectoral programming. This approach was closely aligned with Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, including the Action Area sub-policy entitled A Feminist Approach: Gender Equality in Humanitarian Action. Canada adjusted its response to the combined impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the February 2021 coup d’état in Myanmar. Canada assisted its partners in fighting the pandemic and with recovery from its immediate and medium-term social and economic impact. Following the coup d’état, which overthrew the democratically elected government and worsened the political, economic and social situation in Myanmar, Canada shifted its programming to support civil society organizations and human rights defenders.

Canada’s humanitarian assistance funding to Bangladesh and Myanmar:

  • helped provide life-saving food assistance to more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees in the Cox’s Bazar district
  • contributed to improved access to health services, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, for more than 800,000 refugees and more than 400,000 host community members
  • supported efforts to improve refugee camp site safety, shelter quality and household living conditions for more than 800,000 women, girls, men and boys
  • helped more than 421,000 crisis-affected people in Myanmar access nutritious food
  • extended essential health services to 524,000 crisis-affected people in Myanmar, including life-saving sexual and reproductive health care
  • assisted in the delivery of psychosocial support via women’s and girls’ safe spaces to more than 50,000 community members, and helped support awareness sessions on gender-based violence for over 23,000 Rohingya women and 16,000 Rohingya men in Cox’s Bazar

Canada’s development assistance in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh:

  • helped more than 119,000 host community children get equitable learning opportunities in a safe environment
  • helped 112,000 Rohingya refugee children, including 1,500 with disabilities, access non-formal education in Learning Centres in the camps
  • helped set up 15 health and nutrition facilities, including the provision of family planning services

Project snapshot: Environmental Rehabilitation and Improving Livelihoods in Cox’s Bazar

Implemented by: United Nations Development Programme

Location: Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Encouraging positive political developments in Myanmar

Canada encouraged positive political developments and supported efforts to achieve a political solution that would address root causes of conflicts in the country, including addressing the plight of the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Myanmar. We carefully listened to the Rohingya and recognized their active role in defining their future as a recognized, respected and safe community. This was a core element of Special Envoy Rae’s recommendations that informed all of our actions. The combined impact of the ongoing Rohingya crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and especially the coup d’état presented major challenges to Myanmar’s civil society and its quest for democracy. The people of Myanmar faced collapsing public health services, worsening inequality, waves of violence across the country, a significant increase of displaced persons, mass arbitrary detentions, growing food insecurity and an almost complete reversal of gains in democracy. Through sustained engagement with ASEAN, the United Nations (UN) and the international community, and through targeted international assistance and support to civil society partners, Canada promoted human rights, respect for diversity, inclusive democracy, and peace and security in Myanmar.

In line with the Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canada’s assistance in Myanmar put women and girls at the centre of its efforts and took a holistic approach to peace and security efforts in order to work toward sustainable peace and development. Canada did the following:

  • strengthened the capacity of key peacebuilding actors, including through the provision of training on gender empowerment and federalism to 11,000 civil society representatives and 2,800 key political stakeholders
  • promoted human rights, including by supporting 21 women’s rights organizations to sustain and empower feminist movements that can deliver transformative change for Myanmar women and girls
  • improved social cohesion through building better understanding between different communities and encouraging cooperation in addressing community issues and problems, including through the creation of 4 new multi-ethnic networks that promote land, federalism, natural resource management and women’s rights and the participation of 98,795 people (51% women) in convergence dialogues that helped build better, more inclusive governance practices
  • supported justice and accountability processes, particularly in relation to sexual and gender-based violence and in order to raise the voices of survivors in international accountability processes such as the International Court of Justice
  • increased access to sexual and reproductive health and services for more than 1,000 women and provided more than 8,000 conflict-affected children with psychosocial support and case management services
  • contributed to sustainable livelihoods in conflict and crisis-affected areas, including enhanced livelihoods for 26,000 at-risk and female-headed households from different communities in Rakhine State

By focusing on women and girls in conflict-affected areas and strengthening their role in conflict prevention and resolution, this support also advanced Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security and improved the human dignity, well-being and rights for at-risk and marginalized communities in Myanmar.

In Rakhine State, Canada promoted inclusive sustainable growth and contributed to inclusive governance. We reached more than 187,000 people, including Rohingya and youth, through increased access to financial services and livelihood opportunities.

Project snapshot: Improving Market Opportunities for Women Agricultural Producers

Implemented by: MEDA and local partners

Location: Shan and Kayin states, Myanmar

Ensuring accountability for the crimes committed

Canada engaged in extensive advocacy and worked with the international community to find a way to bring to justice those responsible for gross human rights violations and abuses in Myanmar. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Development, along with Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, visited Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. They consistently raised their concerns on the issue in international forums while calling for concerted action.

Following the recommendation of the UN’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, Canada was an early co-sponsor and a strong advocate for a historic UN Human Rights Council resolution on Myanmar in September 2018. Canada supported the establishment of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) and supports the ongoing work of the IIMM, which continues to enable the collection, preservation and analysis of evidence of international crimes and gross human rights violations committed in Rakhine State and throughout the country.

Canada has announced its intention to intervene, jointly with the Netherlands, in The Gambia’s case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice for alleged violations of the Genocide Convention.

We consistently called for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and strongly supported the ICC Prosecutor’s ongoing investigation into deportation to Bangladesh.

Canada imposed targeted sanctions on individuals and entities in response to the Rohingya crisis and the 2021 military coup. Together, these sanctions put increased pressure on the military to initiate genuine and inclusive political dialogue to end the crisis. They also reinforced Canada’s call to all countries to suspend all operational support for Myanmar’s military and to cease the transfer of arms, material, dual-use equipment and technical assistance to Myanmar’s military and its representatives. Taken together, these measures hindered the military leadership’s ability to operate.

Strengthening the international response

Canada played a leadership role in coordinating and mobilizing international response efforts. We engaged in Dhaka, in Yangon, at the United Nations in New York and Geneva, and at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to address multiple aspects of the crisis.

We were active in bringing together like-minded countries at the UN through Canada’s 2018 G7 Presidency and in other multilateral institutions. At the 73rd UN General Assembly in September 2018, the Minister of Foreign Affairs hosted a ministerial-level meeting on the Rohingya crisis to discuss the humanitarian situation and accountability measures. That is when Canada launched the International Working Group, an informal grouping of 22 states that served as a platform to facilitate cooperation among UN offices and partners. It also served to advocate on key issues, such as accountability and humanitarian needs. The Minister of International Development also co-hosted a high-level round table on gender-responsive humanitarian action to focus international efforts on putting policy into action in the crisis.

Canada also played a leading role in marshalling the international response for both Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh. Canada worked closely with the Government of Bangladesh, other donors and international and local organizations to ensure immediate needs were addressed, as well as those needs required to ensure a sustainable future for Rohingya in preparation for a return to Myanmar when it is safe to do so. In Myanmar, Canada actively engaged in supporting democratization and the peace process with the view that a peaceful, democratic, federal union was the most effective way to address the root causes of conflict in the country and in Rakhine State.

Canada’s former Special Envoy to Myanmar, the Honourable Bob Rae, engaged with key international partners in bilateral, regional and multilateral channels. In Bangladesh, he emphasized that education and livelihoods in the camps were essential. His advocacy at home and internationally demonstrated our global leadership and commitment to seek ways to build long-lasting peace and reconciliation in Myanmar.

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