The Nara Peace Park on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin on a fine spring day became the venue for a community-wide fundraising event for the Rohingya refugees.
The fundraising, held on Sunday 15 October, was the brainchild of three active community members, Emad Soliman, Holly Vanderpol and Hajira Mohammed who worked tirelessly with the Muslim community in Canberra to make the arrangements and promote the event, with collaboration with Human Appeal International Australia and Charity Australia International who both collected the donations during the occasion.
According to spokesman, Mr Soliman, the event collected in excess of $25,000 on the day with more likely to follow.
Marc Purcell, CEO, Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), described the plight of the Rohingya refugees.
“Some camps have been there for many, many years. Rohingya refugees fled Myanmar persecution in the 1990’s so the total population of Rohingya now is estimated to be around 1.2 million with about 525,000 who have come in the last six weeks,” he pointed out.
He stressed that there is still no humanitarian access to the Rakhine state, which is controlled by the Myanmar military.
“My organisation (ACFID) is calling on the Australian government to set up targeted sanctions against senior Burmese military officers. Secondly, its very important that Rohingya refugees should be resettled by countries like Australia,” he said.
Imam Adama Konda, of the Canberra Islamic Centre, appealed to the hearts of those who had attended the fundraising event.
“Our freedom in the truth. Allah made us the crown of His creation but somehow the table of human rights is vandalised in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. From tonight, when we walk away from here, we should do our best to be human beings – that is when our brothers and sisters happiness comes first before mine,” he appealed.
Federal Greens Senator Nick McKim, who is the immigration spokesperson for the Greens party, advocated for 20,000 Rohingya refugees to be settled in Australia.
“These are stories of murder and rape and the biggest civilian displacement in Asia for many, many decades. Unfortunately Australian leadership has been lacking,” he lamented.
Zainab – a Rohingyan woman in Australia gave her account of the long and ongoing situation.
“The Rohingya crisis is not something new to the world. They have been discriminated against for many decades – only now has it come to the media’s attention. Still no action is taken,” she said.
Zainab asked the audience how they would feel without any rights and respect in a land where their forefathers had been for generations.
Kathy Ragless, Board Member, Companion House, a consistent and active campaigner for refugees in the ACT, who pointed out that the Rohingya are literally being “starved out” of Myanmar.
“We need the pressure on our representatives and faith leaders to speak up about their human rights needs much more quickly than they are doing right now,” she said.
Holly Vanderpol, one of the organisers of the event, read out a letter from a Rohingya ANU Post-grad student, Maria Begum, who recently temporarily returned to Myanmar to be with her ailing father. The letter has been published in AMUST:
Imam Akram Buksh, Imam of Slacks Creek Mosque and Vice President of Islamic Council of Queensland, who emotionally conveyed his experience of his visit to a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh.
“I have been to many places around the world, where people are suffering and there is no doubt in my heart what I saw there was the worst tragedy that I have seen with my own eyes. We have seen people and spoken to them and all that we have seen and heard is true. There are hundreds and thousands living under trees or out in the open. And that is travelling for up to 10 days without food,” he explained.
“Imagine if you have six children and the army forced you to give up three of them – how would you feel?” he asked the audience.
As is quite frequent at fundraising events across Australia, the auctioneer responsible for selling off the masses of donated goods was Hossain Goss, from Queensland.
Details about the event are captured on Facebook:
Photos of the event are below: