Rohingya refugees

Refugee advocates holding placards at a vigil in Sydney.

Refugee activists in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney held protest vigils for Salim Kyawmin, an elderly Rohingya man who died on Manus Island on May 22. The largest action was in Melbourne where 200 people occupied the streets for a short, time stopping traffic. In Perth refugee activists occupied the department of Immigration, making flowers and in Brisbane a protest was held in front of Peter Duttons office.

Habiburahman, a Rohingyan refugee and founder of the Australian Burmese Rohingya Organisation, has called on the Australian government to suspend its military aid to Burma (Myanmar). Australia currently spends $450,000 a year on aid to the Burmese military.

Habiburahman was speaking at a public meeting on March 28, organised by the Refugee Action Collective. 

He called for a halt to Australian investment in Burma, with human rights conditions being imposed on any resumption. Woodside Petroleum has invested $400 million in offshore gas and oil exploration.

During the early hours of August 25, some 20 to 30 police posts were attacked in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships in the north of Rakhine State in Myanmar (also known as Burma). Twelve police were killed along with 16 attackers.

Responsibility for these attacks was later claimed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

In the two weeks since, the Myanmar military’s response has been brutal, widespread and indiscriminate. While accurate figures are not available, between 400 (military’s estimate), and “around a thousand” (United Nations estimate) Rohingya have been killed by the army.

The victory of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in the November 2015 national elections in Burma (Myanmar) was hailed by Western leaders as heralding a new era of democracy and respect for human rights in the country.

Once isolated by sanctions imposed on the pretext of the widespread human rights abuses by previous military regimes, Burma is now a profitable destination for Western investment. By September, the US had lifted its last remaining sanctions.

In 1939, as Europe stood on the verge of all-out war, Nazi Germany, true to their promise, had issued and implemented 400 different decrees for the regulation of the public and private lives of Jews. Their properties were confiscated, and their businesses and synagogues were burned down. These laws effectively purged Jews from schools, academia, business and public life, and declared them “undesirables”. Many Jews were forced to seek asylum in other Western countries.

Newcastle based group Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy (HASA) held a successful fundraiser for the asylum seekers who have been given so-called 'residency' on Nauru.

Earlier this year one of the asylum seekers had opened up a Pakistani restaurant in Nauru. HASA asked The Love Tree Cafe in Newcastle if they could host a solidarity dinner there, following the recipes of the Pakistani restaurant.

To their astonishment, The Love Tree not only agreed to do it, but did so gratis. Staff volunteered their time, and the venue and food were provided free to maximise the returns.

The toll of Australia's bipartisan anti-refugee policies in death and suffering is rising. In the past fortnight more than 3000 Rohingya refugees from Arakan state in Burma (Myanmar) have turned up on the shores of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, having either swum ashore or been rescued by local fishing boat crews. An estimated 7000 more are trapped on boats that have been described as “floating coffins”.

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