During this week we celebrated International Human Rights Day. On the 10th of December we remembered the day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed in 1948. It is a milestone document that guides much of international law today covering the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as a human being, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.
In this year of COVID19 the theme is recover better- stand up for human rights. The pandemic exposed failures and exploitation of poorer people around the world. While there were heart-warming examples of people coming together in more caring ways during COVID19, I feel those suffering in refugee camps were almost forgotten.
Social distancing simply isn’t possible for the one million Rohingya refugees who live in Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, in south eastern Bangladesh. Families live in close quarters inside flimsy bamboo shacks, using communal toilets and water facilities. Sometimes the most basic items, such as soap, are lacking. It is one of the most densely populated places on earth.
I think how lucky I am to live in Western Australia where life has been relatively normal with exceptionally low case numbers. But then I reflect on the cruelty of the Australian government’s decision to slash support to people seeking asylum in the 2020-21 Budget. This decision, according to the Refugee Council of Australia, puts over 100,000 people, including around 16,000 children, at further risk of homelessness and destitution. Refugees are living in Australia on various temporary visas because the government will not recognise a large cohort of people who came to Australia seeking asylum. These are the forgotten people.
During this year, while attempting to publish stories about the lives of refugees, I was told by several publishers that the reading population has “refugee fatigue”. Is that true? If it is, what does it say about our humanity?
Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the declaration’s authors stated, “human rights begin in small places, close to home.” During this week of international rights, I know I could do more in standing up for human rights. Maybe we all could.