Australia's lack of caring shows again in case of Rohingya migrants

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 May, 2015, 5:26pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 May, 2015, 5:26pm

The better angel of our natures emerged when Indonesia and Malaysia announced they would assist 7,000 desperate, stranded and suffering Rohingya migrants perilously adrift at sea in wooden fishing boats.

The offer to provide temporary shelter needs to be more inclusive, including resettlement to advanced economies such as Australia, the US and Britain.

The reluctance of these nations to offer substantial assistance in this humanitarian crisis is shameful. Malaysia and Indonesia have rightly emphasised that the international community has a responsibility to help them deal with the crisis.

That regional governments and commercial shipping companies have agreed to help locate migrant boats and provide them directions to landing points in Malaysia and Indonesia, or rescue them if necessary, has been lauded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as saving lives. The Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh have fled persecution and poverty at home or were abducted by traffickers, and now face sickness and starvation at sea.

Most of Myanmar's almost one million Rohingya Muslims are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions. Hundreds of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have already landed safely in Aceh province in Indonesia.

This is in stark contrast to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's callous "push back the boats" policy. Australia jettisoned its reputation as a caring nation when John Howard rebuffed asylum seekers arriving by boat off our northwestern coast in 2001. It won him the federal election.

We in Australia have a lot to learn from Alex Lo's appeal to human kindness and a reminder of our obligations to help those desperate to escape religious and ethnic persecution ("Asia must act on the refugee crisis", May 18).

Not only has this clarion call not been sounded in Australia, but our already errant moral compass has been cast further adrift with reduced financial assistance to Indonesia, incited by strained diplomatic relations from the "push back the boats" policy and Australia's moral objections to the execution of two citizens on drug charges in Indonesia. This smacks of reprisal for Jakarta's claim of sovereignty to conduct its own internal affairs and policy without Australia's meddling.

Australian politicians trying to please the electorate tell us what they think we want to hear.

If only the Australian public were made aware of altruism and charity, we might feel better for looking beyond ourselves and attending to the plight of others.

Joseph Ting, Brisbane, Australia