Two apparently unrelated stories have caught my attention over the past few weeks, but there is a clear thread linking them and other events in the world, which make me wonder.
On October 16, Ontario NDP MP, Irene Mathyssen, rose in the House of Commons requesting that the Canadian government protest the refusal of the state of Israel to grant refugee status to thousands of people from Eritrea seeking asylum there.
I would have liked to be told by Mathyssen why she wanted devout Muslims from Eritrea to find a home among the Jews in Israel.
Didn't she learn from the fiery speeches delivered by her NDP colleagues, especially Deputy Leader Libby Davies, that Israel is a racist, xenophobic, and apartheid state, where Muslims are persecuted, discriminated, and treated like second-class citizens?
Wouldn't it be better for the Muslims from Eritrea to settle in one of their many neighbouring countries, like Yemen, Sudan, Egypt, or Kenya—or, more importantly, in the wealthy Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, just across the Red Sea from their shores—where they could share the same religion, culture, habits, and often language, all with a predominantly Muslim local population?
Especially because the Saudis are so keen to be seen as caring for their Islamic brothers and sisters. With a huge territory barely populated and swimming in black and yellow gold, they could easily give shelter to a few thousands Eritreans seeking a better life.
And why would Eritrean refugees endure what is being described in the world media as the perils of being killed, maimed, raped, and sold as slaves during their journey over two thousands kilometers to Israel? It's often on foot through waters and desolated deserts, as they're forced to pay huge amounts to tribesmen and other shadowy people for safe passage, not granted or guaranteed. They could have asked for refugee status in any of the above mentioned neighbouring countries.
I would have liked to learn all of this from Mathyssen, but she has not replied so far to my polite messages asking the same questions. Should I hold my breath awaiting her reply?
Perhaps the explanation was given this past weekend in a string of horrific stories about the atrocities perpetrated in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). The Buddhist majority in the province of Rakhine has been targeting about 800,000 Rohingya Muslims living in the country for over a century, apparently Muslims of Bengali origin.
There are disputed theories about the origin of these people, but ithey are still considered as noncitizens in the country of Myanmar, and subject to persecution and worse. As reported by the CBC, aerial photos of the area show destruction of thousands of homes and other structures following violent clashes with their Buddhist neighbours; there are reports about tens of thousands survivors fleeing the lands in desperation.
And here comes the second part of the report. The neighbouring country of Bangladesh, home to about 300,000 Rohingya and with a 90 percent Muslim population, has further tightened its land and maritime borders with Myanmar, imposed earlier in June 2012, and is turning away every refugee trying to escape the massacres.
According to international aid organizations, not even one person has been able to enter Bangladesh, leaving them at the mercy of their tormentors. There are additional reports about hundreds, if not thousands who have been killed after being turned back by the Bangladeshi soldiers at the border.
This is despite repeated claims from the leadership of the country that one of their highest duties is solidarity with Muslims around the world. Which might also explain why the potential refugees from Eritrea, along with other more than 60,000 other Muslims who have fled to Israel over the past few years, appear to prefer the "racism" there to the brotherly love of their fellow Muslims, even those from very wealthy countries.
Jack Chivo is a retired journalist living in West Vancouver.