THE BLOG

If Your House Was Being Bombed, Would You Run?

Right now, more than 60 million people across the globe have found themselves making this awful choice.

23/05/2016 3:59 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
NEW! HIGHLIGHT AND SHARE
Highlight text to share via Facebook and Twitter
Reuters
A boy carries his belongings from a barrel bomb site in Aleppo, Syria.

If your house was being bombed, would you run? If you were going to bed each night not knowing if your family would survive attack, would you flee? If each day you had less and less to feed your children and their schools had closed, would you reluctantly and in desperation make the decision to abandon your home and country?

Conflict, persecution and starvation: these are the common factors that drive people from their homes; that force them into the impossible choice to abandon their lives as they know them and seek refuge elsewhere.

Right now, more than 60 million people across the globe have found themselves making this awful choice. Conflict and unrest from Libya to Afghanistan, from South Sudan to Syria and Iraq have helped create the world's largest refugee crisis since World War II. While the UN estimates that 125 million people are currently in daily need of humanitarian assistance, a further 218 million have been affected by disasters each year for the past two decades and more than 60 million are forcibly displaced.

The international framework for humanitarian assistance and relief is currently buckling under the weight of the near impossible task of trying to meet the needs of these people scattered around the world. Simultaneously it is facing a massive shortfall in aid to provide the basics for the world's refugees, especially those flooding out of Syria, so much so that three quarters of a million Syrian children are now without access to education.

And yet this is precisely the time when the Australian Government chooses to spend three years slashing $11 billion from the aid budget, bringing Australian aid to the lowest level in our nation's history. This is despite being able to find $50 billion for corporate tax cuts, a further $50 billion for a fleet a new submarines and in the next year alone will spend $880 million – that is approximately $400,000 a person – for the 2200 refugees and asylum seekers we have currently warehoused on Manus and Nauru.

Such is the international refugee crisis that for the first time in its history the UN has convened a World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul today and tomorrow where more than 125 Heads of State and Government will meet representatives from the UN community, civil society, the private sector, academia and thousands of other participants with the goal of trying to nut out the best ways to strengthen the humanitarian system so that it can, not only cope with the current crisis but put in place measures to prevent it growing.

But to have any chance of turning the tide on this crisis, this international effort will need funding.

Which is why I was only too happy to stand by the Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek last Saturday when she announced that that the ALP, if elected, will move immediately to begin the restoration of Australia's aid program, reversing the latest cut of $224 million. And why I'd be just as happy to stand with Malcom Turnbull or Scott Morrison, if they match Labor's pledge or even better it.

For if, along with the rest the world, we can fund our fair share of the international effort to assist those who flee when they are still closest to home, provide them with adequate shelter, food and importantly education for their children and their future, then we have at least a fighting chance of people deciding not to attempt to make perilous journeys across the globe in the hope of a better life.

Which is why Labor's other aid pledge, to give $450 million, over three years, to support the important work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is also welcome.

Significantly, it would also put us in a position, as Labor's spokesperson on Immigration, Richard Marles pointed out last week, to approach the UNHCR directly to seek the assistance of the global community in finding a real solution for those on Manus and Nauru, most of whom have been granted refugee status but remain in a terrible limbo without prospect of resettlement in Australia under the 'rules' of our current border protection regime.

Last year's 40 percent cut to our aid programs in most countries in Asia did nothing to help us find partners in any 'regional solution' for resettlement, leaving aside the $55 million debacle of the Cambodian experiment where 8 months after the deal was struck, only two of the five refugees who opted for resettlement from Nauru now remain.

The fate of those human beings that we have consigned to Nauru and Manus with terrible consequences for their physical and mental health needs to be dealt with urgently by whoever gets elected to government on 2 July; it is not a legacy Australia can be proud of nor do I think most Australians want to see.

I was struck this week by the comments of a Maroopna fruit grower, Peter Hall, who told ABC TV that politicians needed to stop talking about boats and focus on people who needed our help. He said Afghani refugees had become part of his community, working alongside one another, sending their kids to schools and universities.

"Whilst it's good that people are not dying because of leaky boats, I think Australia still could welcome people who are really marginalised and being hammered in some of the toughest positions on earth and I'd love to be able to help those people," he said.

I think that's the authentic voice of Australia speaking, the one that so often gets drowned out.

More On This Topic

Advertisement
Advertisement