Like many Australians, I have been shaken by recent reports of Rohingya men, women and children fleeing their homeland in the thousands.
It’s heartbreaking to see images of children strapped to their mothers’ chests, fathers carrying on their backs everything they own, and to hear of the arduous journeys individuals and families have undergone to reach safety.
While details vary about the exact situation in Myanmar, what we do know is that more than 480,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee to Bangladesh since August, joining hundreds of thousands of Rohingya already crowded into refugee camps in the neighbouring country.
The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority who are widely held to be one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. We count among the SSI community many warm, hardworking people from Rohingya background who have come to Australia to start lives that are free from war and persecution.
One such young woman is 14-year-old Asma, whose touching poem was recently shared in NSW Parliament by Senator Lee Rhiannon:
Seeking the future we have lost
The place where we all used to share our dreams
The place where we truly knew ourselves
The place where we go when we are hurt or sad
The place where our parents, grandparents and their ancestors grew up in
The place where we, the Rohingya Muslim minority have been living on for centuries
All we want is freedom.
I would encourage you to read Asma’s full statement.
For the past few years, the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East has gripped our attention and led to huge support for refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria and Iraq.
Now, with our own region in the midst of a refugee crisis, we have a responsibility to find a way to help. This might be by making a personal donation to frontline organisations such as UNHCR or running a fundraiser, like SSI staff did last month.
Over 80 staff members from teams across Sydney attended a lunch event in our Bankstown office where they raised $1,200 for the UNHCR Rohingya appeal. The money will go towards tents, food, sleeping mats, tools, and hygiene and other essential items.
You could also volunteer your time to support Rohingya people who are living in Australia — many of whom are new to our shores and have family and loved ones affected by the situation in Myanmar. You can support community organisations such as the Burmese Rohingya Community in Australia or volunteer with organisations that work with refugees and people seeking asylum.
Volunteers play a critical role in helping new arrivals to build a sense of community. They can be people’s neighbours, the fellow mum at the playgroup or the smiling face at the community garden, when we who work in funded settlement services cannot.
If you’re unable to support offshore efforts, I would encourage you to reach out to our Rohingya neighbours in Australia and offer your support. It’s these acts of welcome that help new community members to find their sense of belonging and build a new life in Australia.