Speaking for the Rohingya People

Rohingya rally.jpg

Northbourne Avenue, Canberra, Australia
Friday May 22nd 2015

I spoke today at the open air public Rally/Vigil on Canberra’s Northbourne Avenue – held for the Rohingya people, fleeing the most cruel persecution in Myanmar and Bangladesh.  Below is the transcript of my speech:

My name is Paul Wallis. I am the Anglican Archdeacon for North Canberra.

Brothers and Sisters we are here today to express our solidarity and desperate concern for 8,000 Rohingya people, stateless, stranded and starving on the Andaman sea. Standing here today we represent a diversity of beliefs and politics, yet we would all stand together for a principle sometimes called the Golden Rule: that you should treat others in the same way you would hope to be treated in the same circumstance.

For me it’s that simple. It’s that fundamental. It’s something we know in our guts.

If you or I were standing by a body of water and saw a young child drowning, we wouldn’t hesitate. We would surely do everything humanly possible and as fast as possible to save that child – even to putting our own life at risk. Any of us would do that. So if we would, why not our political leaders? Why not our government in the face of the plight of the Rohingya?

If you or I saw a family in a boat capsize and those people get into difficulties in the water, and we had a boat that could get to them, of course we would go to their aid. It would be the only human thing to do. To me it’s that simple.

Which of us could see people in such danger of death and say, “I’m not going to help you because I’ve already saved a couple of lives this year – which is enough really. And I don’t know much about you – your beliefs, your values etc. And I wouldn’t want you to become dependent…??? None of us! And if none of us, then in whose name do our leaders say and do these things?

Myusup Manyar is a fisherman from the small island village of Pusung. Mansur took his humble fishing vessel to the waters off North Sumatra, and when he saw terrified people jumping from a distressed and crowded boat into the sea he began pulling people from the sea into his own boat. “We helped them,” he said. “What is more human than that?”

In helping people at sea, Mansur honoured the most fundamental maritime principal – to help those in distress on the sea. So where are we? Why would we not release our boats to do the same?

If our goal in the region is – as our government says – to stop the drownings then we must intervene. It’s that simple. Forget “stop the boats”. To save people we need to send boats, our boats and do the only human thing possible in the face of such a tragedy. As a country we cannot remain at this humanitarian low point.

If Thailand can stop the push-back of arrivals; if Indonesia and Malaysia can permit landings and send rescue efforts and call for regional neighbours to help resettle the Rohingya within a year, where are we?

If the USA – not even in our region – can offer to share in the resettlement of the Rohingya people, where are we? Why on earth can’t we?

In responding to a people stateless in Myanmar and Bangladesh for a thousand years we cannot be content to be the humanitarian low point in our region’s response.

Today we appeal to the most fundamental human response and call on our government and our navy to top the push-backs. We cannot stand idly by as innocent people drown. We cannot stand idly by as countries beyond our region step up to help our Rohingya neighbours. We call on our government and our navy to do the only human thing possible and extend Australia’s helping hand.