Like many Australians, I feel deep sorrow for the people of Ukraine. I too fled a country where war crimes were being committed against its people, and I know the fear and the uncertainty all too well. And I feel nothing but pride and deep gratitude for the country I now call home, as it welcomes people who so desperately need refuge and acts so swiftly to this dire humanitarian crisis.
Watching footage of Ukrainians desperately trying to flee the conflict reminds me of my own escape with my siblings from South Vietnam in 1975. Reports of women and children who have walked 80 kilometres, in below-freezing winter temperatures, just to get to safety. Many without water, without food, without access to basic amenities like toilets on the way. I remember clearly when we boarded a boat and clung to it adrift on an unforgiving ocean, drifting fortuitously, eventually to land that welcomed us and provided safety and dignity.
Aid organisations on the ground work tirelessly to meet these needs, providing hot meals, water, access to toilets and showers, information and support on the long, hard journey to safety. These offerings are not just lifesaving, particularly in brutal Ukrainian winter conditions, but also humanising. Indeed, when we support a fellow human with comfort, we recognise their humanity and give them the hope to continue – as this same hope was once granted to me when I landed ashore after seven long days adrift at sea.
But I wonder – what about the people of Myanmar or Ethiopia? We must see this horrible war in Europe as a reminder of the need for life-saving humanitarian aid in conflict and hunger hotspots around the world. Of their people’s need for safety, for dignity, for love. We already know that the conflict in Ukraine is causing shockwaves for global energy markets, but it is also a vital breadbasket for much of Middle East and Africa – sending approximately 40 per cent of their wheat and corn to these regions.
This means that as Ukraine suffers, so too will some of the most vulnerable nations and people in the world. In situations where people’s survival was already under threat, they are now pushed over the edge. We must take this war as a reminder of all the crises that are unfolding right now and extend our empathy to the people suffering atrocities, who will otherwise be forgotten. Countries like Myanmar, Ethiopia, Syria, Palestine, Somalia, Venezuela, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Yemen and all the other places where people are forced from their homes in desperate search for safety.
The Australia that welcomed me, and that has given me the opportunity to thrive, must not forget the many other callous and unjust wars unfolding right now around the world. Not now, not ever. If we do forget, then we allow atrocities and war crimes to flourish. Corners of the world may feel distant, but the world is full of our brothers and sisters, one family and if we neglect any members of our family, then it is the whole world who loses.
I want Australians to take this brutal and ugly war, in all its ferocity and ruthlessness, the images and stories that strike our hearts, as a reminder of our own ability to band together in solidarity for what is right and just. We can prevail, and bring hope, even in the deepest darkness of the shock, chaos and despair of war.
Across the world extreme poverty, displacement and hunger are all increasing. But we can make a difference. Through life-saving aid, together we can make, ‘A Safer World for All’.
Sign the pledge to ask the government to increase life-saving humanitarian aid to conflict and hunger hotspots. Sign to make A Safer World for All.
Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv STL DD is Bishop of Parramatta and serves on the Board of Caritas Australia. He is the first Vietnamese-born bishop to lead a diocese outside of Vietnam and the first Vietnamese-born bishop in Australia. Nationally, he serves as the Bishops Delegate for Migrants and Refugees and is Chair of Australian Catholic Social Justice Council.