While regional governments responded to Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees by closing borders, working people showed that there is hope amid the horror.
When news of the stranded refugees reached Tamiang, in Aceh, locals sprang into action. A network of fishers organised by Muhammad Hendra, head of the Tamiang Farmers and Fishers Association, rescued 47 refugees from the sea.
Within hours, the people of Tamiang organised to help those who had been rescued. They collected supplies, including more than 30 kilograms of rice and piles of clothes, for those who had suffered so long, day by day losing hope on the ocean.
Hendra explained to the Sydney Morning Herald why he and his community responded as they did: “The Rohingyas were rejected by Thailand, they were rejected by Malaysia, even our own navy rejected them … You know they were on boats for so long, they lost everything, we felt pity for them”.
This is the natural, logical, human response that people all around the world felt when looking at the pictures of those thousands fleeing across the ocean.
The fact that such a response was utterly absent from the actions of regional governments – most notably Australia’s – is an indictment of those in power. It is so simple that anyone not blinded by the need to protect their own wealth and privilege can see the solution to the refugee crisis: let them in.
Whether they are fleeing from oppression in Myanmar, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka – anywhere on the planet where people feel that their lives are so threatened that they risk everything in order to escape – the response must be to welcome them.
Often, advocates for refugee rights are told that the way to change the world is find supporters among the elite, the educated and the privileged: to find a way to tug at their heart strings.
The last week has shown that those who rule couldn’t care less about the thousands fleeing Myanmar any more than they care about the plight of those they exploit and oppress within their own borders.
The people of Tamiang have shown that an alternative is possible, if only the “lowly”, rather than those on high, were to run the world.