Jason Nickerson at Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights Forced Global Displacement. Canada, 2024.

MSF statement to Canadian Senate: “We are calling on Canada to continue to step up, too”

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Opening Remarks Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights Forced Global Displacement 

Jason Nickerson
Humanitarian Representative to Canada MSF

Good evening, Senators and thank you for having me here.

As a medical humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) regularly responds to forced displacement emergencies, working with communities who are exposed to violence, conflict, and increasingly – climate change – forcing them to flee for safety and out of necessity. Our role is to provide lifesaving medical care, and we are increasingly witnessing alarming gaps, in response to large crises of forced displacement in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan which today marks one year since conflict engulfed the country displacing millions internally and into neighbouring countries such as South Sudan and eastern Chad which has become the largest host country to the Sudanese refugee population and where the humanitarian response remains inadequate.

There are a multitude of crises that we could discuss, and I want to focus my remarks on three emergencies that I think are important to bring to the Committee’s attention in order to consider Canada’s response.

Each of these are distinct crises but share one striking similarity: they’re all characterized by slow global action despite rising humanitarian needs.

In North-Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a conflict linked to the resurgence of the M23 armed group has lasted for more than two years. This has massively aggravated the decades-long conflict in this province and is today also impacting the northern part of South Kivu province. No less than 2.5 million people are now displaced in North-Kivu – more than one third of its population.

Since the very beginning, the international humanitarian response to this crisis has been completely inadequate. Despite some improvements, many people are still living in undignified and unsafe sites where they lack adequate and safe drinking water, food, sanitation, shelter, and healthcare.

MSF is responding to this crisis through multiple ongoing and emergency projects, but the needs are immense. MSF supported hospitals and health centres have received influxes of war-wounded patients, including with gunshot wounds and injuries from explosions. We are particularly alarmed by shocking levels of sexual violence – in 2023, MSF supported clinics provided care to 20,556 survivors of sexual violence in North Kivu, and in some of our clinics we are seeing an increase in sexual violence this year, above what we saw in 2023. Canada needs to act.

I want to also draw the Committee’s attention to the deplorable situation facing the Rohingya population, in Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Malaysia.

I was recently in Bangladesh, visiting MSF’s projects in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, a fenced camp which today is home to approximately 1 million people – the largest refugee camp in the world – and where MSF is the main provider of health services inside a fenced camp where people who have fled violence and persecution today find themselves contained and with limited or no right to employment, education, or livelihoods, and with no clear solutions proposed. I was also in Malaysia, where our teams provide medical care to Rohingya people fleeing violence and an uncertain future in the camps in Cox’s Bazar yet arrive in Malaysia to face a reality of a lack of legal protections and safety, and thousands find themselves arrested and held in detention centers, largely for immigration violations they have no legal recourse to correct.

I want to close by discussing the war in Gaza and the forced displacement crisis that it has created. Over 1.7 million people in Gaza, representing nearly 75 per cent of the population, are estimated to be forcibly displaced and living in unsafe, unhealthy conditions.

We are witnessing a reality today that people in Gaza are deprived of essential items such as food, water, shelter, fuel and electricity, as well as healthcare, due to Israel’s siege of the entire Gaza Strip. Supplies allowed to enter for the displaced population have been negligible compared to the immense needs. Malnutrition is surging. Communicable diseases are spreading. Clean water is scarce. Thousands of patients need access to complex medical, surgical, and rehabilitation care that is no longer available in Gaza and they require urgent medical evacuation. Minutes matter when lives are on the line.

MSF continues to call for an immediate and sustained ceasefire now, as we witness the suffering of Palestinian people caught and displaced by a conflict that blatantly ignores the rules of war. Our call for a ceasefire is a humanitarian one, emphasizing that given the way the war is being conducted, this is the only viable path for being able to reach people in need.

I want to close by thanking the committee for looking at this issue and the role that Canada can play in responding to the urgent needs faced by people who are forcibly displaced. At a time when much of the world stalls or looks away amid rising humanitarian needs, our hope is that Canada can have the moral courage to rise to the challenge. This includes committing to fund international humanitarian assistance in tomorrow’s Federal Budget, and using Canada’s full diplomatic power to push for constructive and meaningful solutions to these crises. Whether in DRC, or Bangladesh, or in Gaza, minutes matter for people who need urgent medical care – MSF will continue to respond to the needs of people affected by crises, and we are calling on Canada to continue to step up, too.

Thank you.