Perth rally for Rohingyan refugees. Photo: Alex Bainbridge
Rallies were held around the country on May 22 to demand that Australian government end its inhumane policy of turning back refugees and rescue the thousands of Rohingyan refugees abandoned at sea before they starve to death.
About 60 people protested outside the Department of Immigration offices in Perth calling on the federal government to actively rescue and resettle the Rohingyan refugees fleeing Burma. Sally Thompson from Refugee Rights Action Network said that there are more than 100 Rohingyan refugees on Manus Island and around 50 on Nauru. She read messages from these refugees who explained the violence that forced them to leave Burma.
About 40 people gathered at the steps of the Mall in Armidale on the same day.
The following statement was accepted unanimously by those present: “We call on the Australian government to immediately offer resettlement places, humanitarian assistance and any assistance required with international search and rescue efforts. We call on the Australian government to let boats with asylum seekers land on Australian soil.”
The group walked through the Armidale Mall and Centro shopping centre chanting “let the boats land”, and “rescue the Rohingyan refugees”.
Participants felt empowered and vowed to continue the struggle until Australia’s policy is changed.
The rally coincided with similar events in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney and was endorsed by Armidale Rural Australians for Refugees, March Armidale, the New England Greens and Socialist Alliance New England.
In Melbourne, about 200 people attended a rally called by the Refugee Action Collective.
Habib Habiburahman, representing the Burmese Rohingya community in Australia, told the rally that the Rohingyas have been persecuted in Burma for decades. They have been denied citizenship, and hence are stateless. Since June 2012, at least 10,000 have been killed and more than 20,000 houses have been burned. 150,000 displaced people are living in 42 camps, while another 50,000 are missing.
Another million Rohingyas are confined to their villages. They are not allowed to leave to go fishing, or go to school.
Some Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh, but that is no solution. They are kept in overcrowded refugee camps indefinitely, and not allowed to become Bangladesh citizens.
Habiburahman said the Rohingyas are not the only ethnic group persecuted in Burma. There are between four an five million displaced people in Burma altogether.
He urged the Australian government to be involved in resettling the refugees, and in trying to find a solution to the crisis in Burma.
Margaret Sinclair, representing RAC, said the Australian government 's policy is to "let them [refugees] drown somewhere else". She said the government should have sent ships to rescue the refugees.
Other speakers included Greens senator Janet Rice, former child refugee Muhammad Baqiri, and Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.