The best news I heard this week is the news that the Malaysian and Indonesian governments are going to give shelter to the about 2,000 Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants adrift in international waters off the coast of the two nations.
I don’t know what motivated the two governments to turn around from their push-back policy with regard to refugees streaming into their countries. But, I suspect it had a great deal to do with what people were feeling and doing on the ground. Malaysians have been rallying support and food and medical supplies from fellow Malaysians and delivering them to the starving migrants, many of whom are also sick, fully aware that they may get into trouble if the government decides to strictly enforce the push-back policy.
The Indonesians, too, have shown a similar very commendable spirit in thumping their noses at their government’s push-back policy and doing the right thing. When the crisis first happened and the governments cried out, “push back, push back!” a simple Indonesian fisherman stopped his trawler and rescued 400 Muslim migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar from their sinking boat off the coast of Acheh in northern Sumatra.
These simple gestures by ordinary people reflect the outpouring of sympathy for the migrants and governments know better than to ignore the feelings of their majority Muslim citizens! The Muslim migrants share a common religion with the predominantly Muslim Indonesian and Malaysian nations. Demonstrating a lack of Muslim solidarity in the face of adversity would be risking the support of their citizens for the ruling governments!
When the masses act, governments sit up!
Another laudable recent civil effort is the initiative by the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) to make local communities disaster-ready (see previous post).
The NECF played a key role in bringing relief to flood victims in the disastrous floods that hit the East Coast last December. In some cases, I am told by NECF secretary Andy Chi, they were the first to reach flood victims with provisions. From that experience, the NECF realised the need to prepare local communities to survive disasters and devised a long-term plan to set up Local Command Centres (LCC) which mobilize the local community for an effective response towards disasters and emergencies.
The NECF initiative is transparently 100% altruistic. The objective is solely to give aid to whoever needs it — it has no hidden agenda “to christianize!” I have to stress this point just in case some people misconstrue! The composition of the LCCs will reflect the cultural, ethnic and religious make-up of their respective communities.
When government resources are strained and inadequate, which is usually the case in a disaster of major proportions like the East Coast floods, a trained and disaster-ready community will be very effective in saving more lives. In addition, as they learn to work together, local communities become cohesive, united units. That is always good for society and nation.
Whether community-based like the NECF effort or individual like the relief efforts of Malaysians and Indonesians, civil action speaks volumes. Responsible governments and leaders take note and act accordingly. More and more people should be encouraged to speak up through the media and act through protests (peaceful and orderly) and other forms of civil action to express what they want and what they feel strongly about.
If the leaders respond positively, we know we have good leaders; if they respond negatively, we know who we should boot out of public office!