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Newfoundlander dedicated to Rohingya refugees

Andrew Day has taken in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangledesh — Photo by Andrew Day

By Barb Sweet
February 17, 2015

Andrew Day was going to head home to Newfoundland from Bangladesh later this month, but when police raided an unofficial refugee camp he helped, his travel plans abruptly changed.

The Rohingya refugee camp, near the Burmese border had its bamboo huts destroyed the day after Day and others brought aid there roughly a week ago.

“I can’t leave it,” said the South River, Conception Bay North resident. “After this mass eviction, I couldn’t walk away.”

Day has been in Bangladesh for more than a month, though he’s now in Singapore renewing his travel visa and will head back to the Cox’s Bazar area camps next week.

His drive to bring rice to the camps and help build schools began with fundraising efforts back home in Newfoundland for such things as animals and other basic refugee necessities. Day had been working in a paint store at the time and said he spent his own money trying to help.

But a couple of years ago, when he hit a wall on fundraising and was asked if he was ever in Bangladesh, he decided it was time for him to go see for himself.

Day said he’d developed a system of getting aid into the unofficial refugee camps — there are hundreds of thousands of refugees in various camps — while staying ahead of authorities trying to stop the efforts.

The Rohingya Muslim became refugees when they fled a military crackdown on the minority group in Myanmar decades ago.

Some 1.3 million Rohingyas are denied citizenship under national law and are stateless with little rights. 

And after Myanmar started a transition from dictatorship to democracy in 2011, newfound freedom of expression fanned hatred against the Rohingyas by the Buddhist majority. Violence by Buddhist mobs left up to 280 people dead — most of them members of the religious minority — and chased another 140,000 from their homes.

“I quickly began specializing in ways to get aid to places where aid was blocked,” Day said of his early involvement with the cause and connections he made with non governmental organizations.

On his first trip there, he went with nothing, and after a few weeks on the ground, an organization in the UK took over funding for the school he was working on.

For Day, the balance is keeping a low profile to keep ahead of those who would destroy the camps and bringing awareness to the stark poverty of the refugees, who are also often taken advantage by criminals and used as drug mules and prostitutes.

“You are talking about extreme poverty,” he said.

“They are taken advantage of and there are no laws to protect them. The sad part is this group is so low on the totem poll.”

Bringing food to the camps must be done carefully, he said. The main item is rice, which is cheap there and he hopes to send in some blankets, goats and chickens to the refugees, but he doesn’t want to lose money that’s been given to help, as there are gangs in the camps.

He said their plight and the human rights violations against them are not making news the way events in Iraq or Syria do and the Canada and U.S. governments are not pushing their cause as a human rights issue.

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Rohingya Exodus