Our world is facing a tremendous challenge.
Millions of migrants are crossing borders around the globe, risking their lives to escape the effects of violence, war and climate change. It is no exaggeration to say we are in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis our planet has seen since the Second World War.
For nearly a year now, my mission as Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar has been focused on the plight of the Rohingya refugees from Rakhine state.
In little more than two years, nearly one million Rohingya have flowed over the border into neighbouring Bangladesh, forced to live in overpopulated, makeshift camps with ripe conditions for disease and exploitation. Hundreds of thousands more, their homes burnt and destroyed, are displaced within Myanmar, locked into villages with little access to food and humanitarian assistance.
A recent UN report following an independent fact-finding mission in the region calls the violence genocide — a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by Buddhist attackers. It states that “gross” violations to human rights and international humanitarian law have taken place over the last year. The overall number of dead is unclear.
It is easy, and all too common, to cite religion as a tool to promote division, misunderstanding and violence against others. But it is my view that what’s happening in Myanmar and around the world has more to do with intolerance and hatred — a failure to appreciate the humanity that we share — than with spiritual beliefs.
In fact, religion remains a positive and powerful motivating force for literally billions of people around the world. It is a sentiment that will be celebrated in Toronto this November at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions. Thousands of people from around the world will attend this massive interfaith gathering to share their perspectives and inspirations for working toward a better world.
First held in Chicago in 1893, the parliament has a long and distinguished history of bringing diverse cultures together. Now 125 years on, this event exposes participants to more than 200 unique religious and faith traditions practised around the world. It is a unique opportunity for people from different faiths and cultural backgrounds to discuss modern issues of sustainability and human rights, and to carefully consider the role we all play in strengthening our own communities.
Hosting the parliament is an opportunity for Toronto and Canada to take a leadership role on the world stage in recognizing the impact different groups, religious or otherwise, can have when we actively work together.
There will always be people who say the expense of helping is too high. That those in need are too different, or the crisis is not theirs to address. These voices grow louder during every major humanitarian crisis and migration throughout the decades.