RALLY: Rescue the Rohingyan refugees

More than 8000 Rohingyan asylum seekers are stranded in the Malacca Straits. About 200 people have already died and more are at risk from dehydration and starvation.

The stateless Rohingyans are victims of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Australia must immediately lift its ban on accepting UNHCR refugees from Indonesia and offer Rohingyan refugees safe passage to Australia.

The lives of the Rohingyan asylum seekers rest in the hands of regional governments of Australia, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Every hour that passes without assistance puts more lives in danger.

Sydney protest - May 22, 5pm, Sydney Town Hall.

Melbourne protest - May 22, 5.30pm, Bourke St Mall.

Armidale protest - May 22, 5pm, at the steps in Armidale mall.

Brisbane protest - May 22, 5pm, King George Square.

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Abbott’s turnback mantra is risking Rohingyan asylum seekers’ lives

The Refugee Action Coalition Sydney released this statement on May 15.

The Australian government must provide the urgent humanitarian assistance needed by the up to 8000 Rohingyan asylum seekers in boats, at risk, in the Malacca Straits, says the Refugee Action Coalition.

“The Australian government is playing with asylum seekers’ lives,” said Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition. “It is suddenly obvious that offering ‘turnback’ advice to Malaysia and Indonesia cannot save lives at sea, but only endanger them.

“The boats must be welcome in Indonesia and Malaysia, and Australia. Australia must immediately lift its ban on accepting UNHCR refugees from Indonesia and offer Rohingyan refugees safe passage to Australia. An international rescue effort can guarantee that no lives are lost.”

The Australian navy that patrols within hours’ steaming time of the Malacca Straits should already be providing search and rescue assistance and ensuring that they can get safely to land. Every day and every hour that passes without that assistance puts more asylum seekers’ lives in danger.

In other emergencies, such as the earthquake in Nepal or the tsunami in Aceh, the Australian government offers aid and material assistance; but when it comes to asylum seekers’ lives, the government is offering only dangerous rhetoric.

“It is obvious that Australia’s policy of turning back asylum boats from Indonesia and Sri Lanka has created a dangerous precedent in the region, and turned asylum seekers into political footballs. Asylum seeker boats turned away from Indonesia and Malaysia are also at risk of being turned back by Australia.

“Australia’s turnback policy has always been a ‘go die somewhere else’ policy and that is exactly what’s playing out in the Malacca Straits. The rhetoric of blaming people smugglers is a shabby excuse to deny assistance to those in desperate need. The whole world knows the Rohingyans are victims of ethnic cleansing,” said Rintoul.

To its credit, Indonesia has offered support to around 600 Rohingyan asylum seekers who have landed in Aceh. But to the shame of the Abbott government, foreign aid to Indonesia was cut by 40 per cent, even as the crisis unfolded.

Meanwhile Europe has announced a policy of proportionally sharing asylum seekers arriving from Africa or rescued in the Mediterranean, among participating European countries.

“It has never been more obvious that Abbott’s slogan of ‘stopping the boats’ is a costly sham that costs lives. The government could have saved the budget and saved lives by scrapping offshore processing and its monstrous Border Force ministry,” said Rintoul.

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