More than 500 people attended a rally called by the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) on September 9 in solidarity with the Rohingya people of Myanmar (Burma).
Rally chair Adel Salman, the vice-president of the ICV, said genocidal policies against the Rohingya have been carried out for decades. The Rohingya were citizens of Burma when it became independent in 1948, but were deprived of citizenship after a military coup in 1962.
The Rohingya are Muslim, whereas most Burmese are Buddhist. Salman said anti-Muslim rhetoric from prominent people, including leading members of the Buddhist clergy, has promoted hatred towards the Rohingya.
First Nations activist Robbie Thorpe welcomed the Rohingya to Aboriginal land, and spoke of genocide in Australia and in Myanmar as a product of colonialism worldwide.
ICV president Mohamed Mohideen called on the Australian government to provide aid to Rohingya refugees and offer them asylum.
Habib Rahman, from the Australian Burmese Rohingya Organisation, said the ongoing genocide has caused some Rohingya to form an armed group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, to defend their people and land. He said there are 43 other ethnic groups in Burma that have similarly taken up arms to defend themselves from military repression.
Rahman said in the latest wave of violence, 30,000 houses have been burnt, 3000 civilians killed and 270,000 displaced. He said the Myanmar government aims to drive out the entire Muslim population of Rakhine state, including Kamans as well as Rohingya.
Rahman said the National League for Democracy government, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, has acted in the same way as the former military regime. He called on the United Nations to deploy an international peace-keeping force in the area and to distribute food and other aid, bypassing Myanmar authorities who have been blocking aid.
Ronan Lee, a researcher at Deakin University, said historical records show that the Rohingya have lived in Burma for centuries — contrary to the government’s claim that they are recent arrivals from Bangladesh.
Federal Greens leader Richard di Natale called on the Australian government to condemn the slaughter of the Rohingya. He also called for international human rights monitors to be sent to the area and for Australia to open its doors to refugees.
Australian Labor Party MP Maria Vamvakinou said Australia should “consider” sanctions against Myanmar.
Salman told the crowd the Liberals had been invited to speak but did not accept the invitation. Instead, they had sent a message that made excuses for the persecution of the Rohingya. The message was not read out.