Labor pledges $30m for Rohingya and Palestinian humanitarian crises

Lisa Martin
Rohingya refugee children look in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Labor says ‘Australia has an obligation to do a lot more’ for the Rohingya. Photograph: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

Labor has pledged a $30m boost to foreign aid to the Rohingya and Palestinian humanitarian crises if it wins the next election.

The joint announcement from Labor frontbenchers Penny Wong and Shayne Neumann comes before the party’s national conference this weekend in Adelaide.

Two thirds of the money would go to the United Nations relief and works agency for Palestine refugees and the remainder would be allocated to the Rohingya crisis facing Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The extra money for Palestine would help plug a shortfall following US aid cuts.

President Donald Trump slashed more than US$200m in aid for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank earlier this year. The Trump administration is facing accusation it is using the issue to “blackmail” Palestinians into accepting a peace deal that critics say will favour Israel.

The relief works agency supports more than five million Palestinian refugees throughout the occupied Palestinian territories and the wider Middle East.

Wong, the opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman, insisted the money earmarked for Palestinians would have appropriate oversights to ensure it is used as intended.

“As a global leader Labor believes Australia can show humanity, decency and compassion to ensure a fair go for all – at home, on our doorstep and abroad,” Wong said.

In July, then foreign minister Julie Bishop announced Australia would cease providing direct aid to the Palestinian Authority via the World Bank because of concerns the money could be channeled to funding violence.

Since August 2017, more than 720,000 Rohingya refugees have fled from Myanmar to camps in Bangladesh, escaping a military crackdown in which thousands were killed, women were raped and villages were razed.

There are doubts any of the refugees will be able to return home safely in the future.

Neumann, Labor’s immigration spokesman, visited the camps in Cox’s Bazar in August to see first hand the conditions and the work of Save the Children and other Australian aid groups.

He said he felt heart broken seeing the plight of children in the camps unable to get a proper education.

“Australia has an obligation as a wealthy country in the region to do a lot more,” he said during the visit.

The Australian government has so far allocated $70 million to the Rohingya crisis and the money is providing food, water, shelter and health care.

The foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, visited an internally displaced peoples camp in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state this week during a two-day trip to Myanmar.

She also met the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior ministers.

“I raised the importance of allowing UN agencies ongoing access to affected areas and the important need to allow displaced people freedom of movement and access to full education, health care and employment,” she said.

Before the visit, she was facing calls for Australia to cut its military ties with Myanmar.

Since September 2013, the Coalition government has slashed more than $11bn from the aid budget.