The St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia is urging the Australian Government to be a regional leader by offering assistance to the Rohingya asylum seekers seeking refuge. The calls came in the lead up to a regional meeting in Bangkok on Friday. Chief Executive, Dr John Falzon, said: "Now is the time for the Australian Government to share some of the responsibility with our neighbours. The tragic, albeit unintended, consequences of Australia's policy to turn back boats, replicated by nearby countries, is now leaving people with literally nowhere to go.
"We need to remember that the Rohingya people are vulnerable individuals and families, whose escape from Burma on boats follows decades of persecution. Fortunately, some of these asylum seekers were recently brought ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia, but it is thought many more remain at sea and, tragically, untold numbers of people have perished.
"In addition to providing immediate emergency assistance to nations rescuing people on boats, we ask that the Australian Government work with ASEAN countries to find humane ways of receiving refugees and negotiate resettlement for the Rohingya asylum seekers.
The St Vincent de Paul Society echoes the recommendations of the Refugee Council of Australia on the need to increase diplomatic pressure on Burma. Dr Falzon noted that Australia recently provided humanitarian aid to Burma targeted at the Rakhine and Kachin States where many Rohingya and displaced persons people live, but urged Australia to advocate for the establishment of a continued UN human rights presence in Burma.
President of the St Vincent de Paul Society National Social Justice Committee, Frank Brassil said the priority must be on finding humane options to assist refugees that do not involve prolonged mandatory detention or suffering by people, the vast majority of whom will be found to be asylum seekers.
"The St Vincent de Paul Society has been a long-time critic of mandatory detention both on shore and off shore. We must move past the misconception that there is an orderly queue for refugees in our region and uphold our responsibilities under the UN Convention-- people have every right to seek refuge from conflict and persecution in their homelands," Mr Brassil said.