Federal Parliament - International Development Assistance

December 07, 2020

Dr ALY: Can I start by thanking the member for Moncrieff for bringing this motion to the House. I was very fortunate to visit Bangladesh earlier this year with the member for Moncrieff. We went with Save the Children. We saw firsthand the important and valuable work that's being done on the ground, not just in the camps but also through Bangladesh.

The Rohingya are the forgotten people. The Myanmar government and military have undertaken a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing, forcing the Rohingya out of Myanmar and into Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government is doing its best. We know that and we saw that. We saw how much effort has put in from one of the world's poorest nations, Bangladesh, in accommodating as best they can one million Rohingya refugees. But they cannot sustain the number of refugees that have come in from Myanmar, and they cannot keep them there in the long term. It is not a long-term solution.

For those other members of the House who have been to Myanmar and have visited Cox's Bazar, it is extremely confronting to visit those camps. There are several things that stand out in my memory. One of them is what the representatives from the United Nations said when we asked them, 'What is your plan should there be a monsoon or a cyclone?' The response was, 'The best that we can plan for is 500,000 mass graves.' There is absolutely nothing else that they can do in that situation.

There are many more things that I could talk about. I could talk about the wonderful time that we spent with the women's group there, who, despite all the hardship that they are in, found time to smile and have a dance with the member for Moncrieff and me. I could talk about the makeshift sewerage system and the work that's being done there to provide a place for people to bathe and shower. I could talk about the wonderful children's school, and singing 'Twinkle twinkle little star' while sitting on the floor of a makeshift hut, again with the member from Moncrieff. I could talk about the homes consisting of nothing more than a couple of wooden stakes and a dusty tarpaulin. One of the things that stands out most in my mind, though, is sitting on a bus next to the member for Moncrieff, holding her hand as we approached the camp, and both of us taking in a collective breath as our eyes filled with tears at the sight of it. It confirmed for me something that I knew already, and that is that empathy and sympathy don't wear red or blue—or, in today's case, green or black—and that through bipartisanship and working together we can make a difference. We can ensure that the people of Rakhine State and the Rohingyas are not the forgotten people. We can ensure that our government does the best that it can and all that it can to work with the Bangladeshi government and the Myanmar government—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives

Sitting suspended from 13:21 to 13:33

Dr ALY: As I was saying, we can make a difference here through bipartisanship and through working together. We can make a difference in ensuring that, in Myanmar, the conditions are created to ensure the safe and dignified return of the Rohingya people to Rakhine state. One of the things that we learned when we went on the trip was that the best outcome that we could hope for for the one million displaced people is their return to their homes in a safe, sustainable and dignified manner. I urge all members of parliament, if they get an opportunity, to take up an offer to visit Cox's Bazar and see for themselves. Brace yourselves for the confronting scenes that you will see. Once again, I thank the member for Moncrieff, not just for raising this but also for her friendship over the year.