Affirming our solidarity with Ukraine
Our thoughts are with the Ukrainian community here in Australia and across the world as we look on in horror at the human cost of Russia’s brutal and unconscionable invasion of Ukraine.
The images of destroyed buildings, long lines of refugees and tanks rolling down highways are things most of us would never have expected to see again in Europe.
And that the conflict comes hard on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic and amid catastrophic floods in Queensland and NSW makes it all harder to accept.
It’s as if the world we have grown used to the stability we have enjoyed in the past few decades is about to be upended.
But in the midst of tragedy and confusion, there are always things that can inspire hope and drive positive change.
It is heartening to see how the Ukrainian community in Victoria – and similar communities around the country and across the world – have responded to the situation in their homeland.
Ukrainian expatriate communities are holding rallies, vigils and protesting in support of their homeland. And, like thousands of people from other nations around the globe, they are raising money for what will be a massive humanitarian relief effort.
Some estimates say that up to seven million people will be displaced, and the UNHCR says it will need more than $US1 billion to support the needs of these people over just the next three months.
It is also heartening to see how countries neighbouring Ukraine - such as Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and Slovakia – have opened their doors to their fellow Europeans. Some of these countries have traditionally been reluctant to welcome refugees.
Maybe, when the crisis in Ukraine is over, its fallout will fundamentally change the way we think about and treat refugees.
We may also be seeing a sea change in the way in which western democracies call out and react to human rights abuses and the persecution of ethnic or faith groups more generally.
The way Europe and the west have galvanised in the face of Russian aggression is a cause for hope. Perhaps in future, if the west has stood up against aggression and genocide in Ukraine, it will find it more difficult to refuse to do so elsewhere.
It might even prompt more nations to commit meaningfully to the principles of the Global Compact on Refugees, which seeks internationally collaborative long-term solutions to human displacement.
A recent report by the NGO Freedom House, which looked at the state freedom across the globe, found that it is in retreat in the face of rising authoritarianism.
The report found that countries that suffered democratic declines over the past year outnumbered those which strengthened democracy by more than two to one.
We know that authoritarian governments are drivers of conflicts – as we are seeing in Ukraine – and that conflicts create refugees and displaced persons.
Australia has indicated it will accept refugees from Ukraine should the need arise, and AMES Australia stands ready to support them when they arrive through our settlement, education and employment service; and to help them navigate their new lives in Australia.
The conflict in Ukraine is truly horrific and totally avoidable. I’m sure all of our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Ukraine. But maybe it presents an opportunity on the other side of this cataclysmic event to make the world a slightly better place.
Cath Scarth, AMES Australia CEO
4 March 2022