Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the chance to come back to familiar haunts. It's good to see all of you.
I am going to focus my remarks on both Myanmar and Bangladesh to give you a sense of the condition of the Rohingya refugees as well as other refugees in Myanmar.
With respect to Myanmar, there are about 600,000 Rohingya still in Myanmar, one in five of whom live in what are called IDP camps, or internally displaced persons camps. They've actually been called or compared to concentration camps by Christopher Sidoti, who's a former member of the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar. I've actually visited one of the camps—the biggest one, in Sittwe—and it is like an open-air prison. Basically, that's what it is.
While COVID-19 has led to further restrictions on movement and access to services for these persons and has highlighted the vulnerabilities of very highly congested living conditions, we have to recognize the reality that these are hardships that are simply continuing. COVID has made things worse, but we need to understand how bad they were at the beginning in order to appreciate the circumstances.
The deterioration we've seen in Rakhine State, which is the northwestern state of Myanmar and on the border with Bangladesh, is that there's been significant fighting between the Tatmadaw, which is the army of Myanmar, and what's called the Arakan Army, which is not the Rohingya but are representative of the local Buddhist population in what is called Arakan, or Rakhine State.
There are still significant issues of discrimination affecting the Rohingya. There are still significant issues of hate speech. Their situation continues to be extremely vulnerable.
I think we have an opportunity now, after the election in Myanmar, to increase our level of engagement and try to push much harder with respect to what needs to be done to resolve the political crisis inside Myanmar. It's proving to be very difficult.
We have been a leading voice as well, as you know, in international efforts to increase accountability for serious violations, both in the International Criminal Court as well as in the International Court of Justice.
Inside Bangladesh, there are about 860,000 Rohingya refugees who remain in crowded makeshift camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, which I've had the opportunity to visit on a number of occasions. Right now there's not much prospect, in the near term, for their return to Myanmar. I'll be glad to answer some questions on that, if you'd like, but we do have some new issues, which have been enhanced by COVID.
It's important to remember that COVID is both a health event and a social and economic event, as it is for us in Canada. It is the economic impacts that are driving some of the internal issues inside Bangladesh and leading to extremely difficult conditions for the Rohingya.
In response to the report I wrote and in response to the situation described in that report, Canada has committed itself to a three-year program. I'm not in a position to say what the next three years are going to be, but I know from my discussions with the department that there will be a new program starting in April. New efforts will be made to deal with the humanitarian impact.
We need to understand that it's been very difficult during COVID with the camp being essentially shut down to outsiders. It's been very difficult for us to engage successfully with many of the international partners we've been dealing with. We have been continuing to assist with local partners in trying to get the necessary food assistance and health interventions that benefit both the Rohingya, as well as the local Bangladeshi population.
There have been severe restrictions on movement and serious problems with respect to communication and access to the Internet. These remain very serious problems. Essentially, the camp is now in lockdown. I have not been there in recent months, but those who have seen it will say there's extensive barbed wire around the camp and that it is very difficult to get into and out of. Conditions in the camp, generally speaking, have deteriorated.
The latest data I have is that there have been 5,098 COVID-19 cases and 73 deaths in the host communities at Cox's Bazar, and 335 COVID-19 cases, resulting in only 10 deaths, in the camps. I am not sure about the reliability of this data, because the collection of information is extremely difficult to do.
To sum up, the solution to the political issues still lies in Myanmar. That's where the essential efforts have to be made. We are facing enormous challenges with respect to humanitarian conditions both in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
When it comes to education, we have a real crisis with the next generation. Kids are not getting access to education. This is going to prove to be a serious problem, not only in these two countries but, from my observations at the United Nations, around the world.
Thank you very much.