Parliamentary speeches

Rohingya people

December 07, 2020

One of, if not the most discriminated people in the world: that's how UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the Rohingya people. The level of suffering and the level of abuse that's been experienced by the Rohingya has been well documented, but it bears repeating in this place. I thank the member for Moncrieff for bringing this very important motion before the House. I'm very pleased to be able to make a contribution to it. I also echo her comments. I think it is important that we recognise that this issue is the single biggest regional humanitarian crisis. It is important we engage in it and it is pleasing that a number of members and senators were able to visit the region, particularly the camps at Cox's Bazar, and bring home that testimony that we've heard so eloquently from the member for Moncrieff. As her private member's motion notes, 25 August this year was three years since over 700,000 Rohingya, including more than 400,000 children, fled violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State to reach Bangladesh.

As we speak, there are 850,000 people living in crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh. I want to acknowledge the work that's being done around this—the extraordinary work by international and national non-government organisations such as BRAC, Save the Children, CARE, World Vision, Plan International, Oxfam and many local partners who are working with UN agencies on the ground. I strongly encourage the Australian government to maintain our efforts and to continue providing vital aid and assistance, which has made such a difference but must go on to continue to make such a difference for some of the most vulnerable people, in particular women and girls.

But, of course, the Rohingya people are not going anywhere. This crisis is not going to just disappear. There are still more than half a million Rohingya believed to be living in Rakhine State. UN investigators have warned that there is a serious risk that genocidal actions may occur or recur. Human Rights Watch has stated that the remaining Rohingya in Rakhine face government persecution and violence, are confined to camps and villages without freedom of movement and are cut off from access to adequate food health care, education and livelihoods. This must come to an end. The international community must help find a durable and lasting resolution of the situation in Rakhine State, with the objective of Rohingya people being able to go home and live in peace.

We must also continue to show our resolve as Australians and as an Australian government by demonstrating our humanity and compassion by helping Rohingya people. We should be an exemplar in this regard. We should be working with the region, particularly when it comes to the forced movement of people. We should be more directly engaged with agencies, including the UNHCR, as Labor has proposed. We are more than five years on from the Andaman Sea crisis. I acknowledge the work in particular of the Kaldor Centre in encouraging wide reflection on this from a range of perspectives on the situation of the Rohingya and the broader question on whether the region is any more welcoming or better prepared to respond to mass displacement and forced migration, because we need to consider this being a continuing factor, particularly in the context of COVID and the context of climate change as well.

I want to finish my remarks on this debate with a passage from Habiburahman's First, They Erased Our Name –a Rohingya speech:

I am three years old and will have to grow up with the hostility of others. I am already an outlaw in my own country, an outlaw in the world. I am three years old, and don’t yet know that I am stateless.

These are powerful words that capture the despair faced by the Rohingya people. We should listen to them. They demand our attention. It is vital that we engage with the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine state. It is vital that we turn our attention to what is going on in Cox's Bazar and other camps. It is vital that we remain focused and, indeed, refocus our efforts on providing humanitarian assistance to those in need, but we also must do all we can to help resolve this ongoing crisis for the Rohingya and for the world.