Cate Blanchett Gives 'Gut-Wrenching' U.N. Speech On Rohingya Crisis
"How can any mother endure seeing her child thrown into a fire?"
Australian actress Cate Blanchett has delivered a moving speech to the United Nations about observing the "gut-wrenching" Rohingya refugee crisis.
Blanchett travelled to Bangladesh as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador last March, to witness the extent of suffering of those who had escaped atrocities and persecution in their homeland. The Rohingya people are a historically-targeted ethnic minority in Myanmar, and hundreds of thousands have fled the country since a new campaign from military and government began in 2016.
It is thought nearly 700,000 Rohingya people have fled Myanmar into Bangladesh, while countless others have been killed or injured in the crackdown which saw villages burned, people brutally murdered and tortured, and women raped.
"Like you, I have heard the gut-wrenching accounts. Stories of grave torture, of women brutally violated, people who have had their loved ones killed before their eyes. Children who have seen their grandparents locked in houses that were set alight," Blanchett told the U.N. in New York City last week.
"I am a mother, and I saw my children in the eyes of every single refugee child I met. I saw myself in every parent. How can any mother endure seeing her child thrown into a fire?"
Blanchett spoke of how she visited refugee camps in Bangladesh and met families, saw children with horrific injuries, and heard stories of unspeakable cruelty. She spoke of an 18-year-old woman named Laila and her infant son Yousuf, who fled their village after it was set alight.
"Five days later, these same people returned, setting fire to her home and forcing her to flee alone with her baby. She saw her uncle killed by men with knives. She told me: “when I saw this, I just ran”. She and her son hid in a forest for months, surviving off plants and trees. Her harrowing journey ended in Bangladesh, where her present hardship persists," Blanchett said.
"As I sat with Laila, a small child played behind me and I noticed terrible scars on his leg. When I asked how he came by these, his family told me he had been caught in the flames when their home had been torched. Luckily they pulled him free, but the scars will remain: both the physical and the psychological."
She praised the U.N. and Bangladesh for their response to the crisis, but called for more to be done.
"Bangladesh’s recent response, receiving over 700,000 refugees in a matter of months and providing them safety, is one of the most visible and significant gestures of humanity in our time. But the needs are vast. The suffering is acute. Much more international support is needed," she said.
Blanchett claimed only one-third of the refugee operation had been funded, less than 70 cents per person per day, a figure she slammed as "quite embarrassing."
"Many Bangladeshi villagers living nearby, with very little to call their own, have been helping the Rohingya refugees over the past year. If people with so little can step up, why can’t we do better?" she asked.
"Refugees need to feed their families. They need clean water and sanitation facilities to wash, to cook, to clean. They need a secure shelter to weather the monsoons and the heat. Their children need an education. Their grandparents need to be cared for. But they need more than just food and water, informal schools, temporary shelter. They need a future."
"There are no short cuts. There are no alternatives. We have failed the Rohingya before. Please, let us not fail them again."