AS THE MONSOONS APPROACH, THE ROHINGYA REFUGEES ARE DESPERATE FOR HOPE - Opinion Piece with Andrew Broad MP, The Guardian, Saturday 7 April 2018
Exhausted parents dragging toddlers through water and mud, babies carried in the arms of siblings little older than themselves, and horrifyingly tiny graves of children who did not survive the journey.
This is the confronting scene we witnessed in January at the Rohingya refugee settlements surrounding Cox’s Bazar on our visit to South-East Bangladesh as co-chairs of the parliamentary friends of Unicef.
At the time we were told 80,000 people needed shifting in 60 days so they would not be killed by mudslides. They needed adequate drainage so that waterborne and respiratory diseases wouldn’t flourish and spread in the additional water as it mixed with excrement. And as the monsoon season approaches, the challenge is about to get much worse for almost one million Rohingya refugees.
At Cox’s Bazar, we witnessed the work Unicef and other humanitarian agencies have been doing to help this enormous influx of desperate people in incredibly difficult circumstances. We saw there was no waste.
We saw the impressive level of work that was completed on tight budgets – the digging of hundreds of water bore wells, installation of thousands of latrines, immunisation of 900,000 children and adults against cholera, screening of over a quarter of a million children for malnutrition, construction of learning and play spaces.
Yet even that gargantuan effort continues to fall short of the need. Unicef has only been able to raise 28% of the funds needed. But the most fundamental challenge confronting those trying to help this vast population, around 720,000, of Rohingya refugees – the majority of whom, devastatingly, are children – is that their most basic rights have been taken from them.
One of the very basic things people need in order to survive is hope, but how does anyone offer hope in this situation? Especially as there is no right to hope, no matter how much you need it or wish for it.
Freedom of movement for these people remains highly restricted, and they have extremely limited access to the fundamentals of existence – health care, education and the ability to earn a livelihood – whether or not they are trying to leave Bangladesh to return to the state of Rakhine in Myamar. They are stateless. Their nationality is denied.
Australia must do everything it can to can to convince or pressure the Myanmar government to respect the rights of its Rohingya population, so that they can return to their homes as fully fledged citizens safely and with dignity as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this option currently seems far off, so we must face the present reality that this is a long-term stay for this huge and unfortunate population of people. So the Bangladesh government and authorities deserve enormous recognition for the assistance and aid they have provided to these people. Aid organisations from Bangladesh and around the world have managed to avert the worst of disasters so far.
However, the changing seasons are about to deliver further suffering upon the already highly traumatised population that has fled to Bangladesh. They are still trying to recover from the psychological effects of the violence they have fled, and they are still trying to adapt to the harsh and unsanitary conditions in the monstrous camp cities that have sprung up to accommodate them. Now they must prepare for the onset of the monsoon, cyclone and flood season.
Many of the areas housing the essential services are likely to become flooded in the very near future. Access to health, education and child protection services will be considerably diminished for this Perth-sized population.
That is why we will continue to advocate in parliament and to the Australian people for urgent assistance to Bangladesh – with the necessary financial and other resources to support them through the dire months ahead as the monsoons and the floods sweep in.
We firmly believe we must all work toward providing our Rohingya neighbours with the human dignity and basic rights that should never be negotiable. We must be good neighbours. And the first step to doing this must surely be to give them hope.
Lisa Singh is a Labor Senator for Tasmania. Her website is www.lisasingh.com.au. Andrew Broad MP is the National Party Member for Mallee. They are Co-Chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of UNICEF. This opinion piece was first published by the Guardian on Saturday, 7 April 2018.
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Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra