#GiftofHope: Atom Araullo on why Filipinos should care about the Rohingya

Aika Rey

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#GiftofHope: Atom Araullo on why Filipinos should care about the Rohingya
'Just trust in our capacity to care. Ang mga Pilipino, malaki ang mga puso niyan. Puwede nating suportahan ang mga kababayan natin dito habang sinusuportahan ang mga mamamayang nakakaranas ng karahasan at pambubusabos,' says journalist and UNHCR advocate Atom Araullo

MANILA, Philippines – Thousands of Rohingya Muslims sought refuge in Bangladesh in an attempt to flee for safety as Rakhine state burned.

The Rohingya migrants are Muslim minorities who speak the ethnic Rohingya language – an Indo-European language associated with Bengali. They live in northern Rakhine state (formerly called Arakan), a coastal village in Myanmar.  (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Human Rights Watch on Rohingya)

However, Myanmar does not consider the Rohingya people as citizens nor an ethnic group. Only about 40,000 were recognized by the government and given citizenship.

In a Rappler Talk interview with MovePH editor Voltaire Tupaz, journalist and United Nations High Commission for Refugees advocate Atom Araullo urged Filipinos to care about the Rohingya crisis.

Araullo has recently visited Bangladesh to shoot “Silang Kinalimutan,” his documentary on the plight of the Rohingya refugees. Araullo’s first “i-Witness” documentary will air on GMA-7 on December 2.

Our struggles are not different

Araullo noted that the Philippines currently experiences several problems such as the recently concluded war in Marawi, leaving thousands of evacuees waiting for their city to be rebuilt.

He said that the struggles in the Philippines are not different from what the Rohingya experience – Filipinos are resilient and courageous after going through challenges.

“Ang mga Rohingya, ‘yung karanasan nila hindi kaiba sa mga karanasan ng mga kababayan natin na binagyo, naging biktima ng labanan, ng karahasan,” he said.

(The Rohingya’s experience is not different from the experience of our countrymen who were battered by typhoons, became victims of war, of violence.)

Emphatize with the Rohingya

Araullo also said that Filipinos should emphatize with the Rohingya.

He said that despite having problems in the country, he believes that Filipinos have the capacity to care.

“I just think that we have the capacity to engage in those issues and not necessarily to shut ourselves out from what is happening around the world,” said Araullo.

He also said that the Filipinos have “big hearts.” (READ: Unspeakable tragedy as Rohingya refugees flee to safety)

“Just trust in our capacity to care. Ang mga Pilipino, malaki ang mga puso niyan. Puwede nating suportahan ang mga kababayan natin dito habang sinusuportahan ang mga mamamayang nakakaranas ng karahasan at pambubusabos,” he added.

(Just trust in our capacity to care. Filipinos havebig hearts. We can support our fellow citizens while supporting other citizens who have experienced violence and persecution.)


He emphasized that the problems in the Philippines, such as terrorism, is part of a larger context. (READ: Duterte confirms Maute terror group’s ISIS links)

This kind of perspective helps us understand our own problems, he said.

“It’s important to understand what is happening around us and not just the Philippines – so we have an idea of why things are happening and how they are interconnected. It gives an understanding of our own problems,” he added.

Araullo also noted that while there is a need to address the problems in the country, a Filipino can also think about helping others as well. “Definitely, we have to address our problems in the Philippines first but we have a large enough capacity to think and help that we can do that while still keeping in mind the plight of others who were persecuted elsewhere.”

Giving back

Ultimately, Araullo said helping the Rohingya is one way of paying it forward to foreign communities who helped the country in times of disasters. (READ: The Rohingya and the port of last resort)

“Nakita natin kung paano tumutugon ‘yung buong mundo. Sa mga pagkakataong ganito, makiisa tayo sa iba pang mga inaapi bilang laam natin ang pakiramdam (We have seen how the world responds [to our plight]. In times like this, let’s be one with those who were oppressed because we know how it feels),” he said

“Para maresbakan natin ang isa’t isa. Kung may mangyaring mang ganito sa Pilipinas sa hinaharap, sana hindi naman, maaasahan natin ‘yung tulong ng mga mamamayan ng mundo,” he added.

(This way, we have each other’s back. If something like this happens in the Philippines in the future, hopefully it doesn’t happen, we can count on the help of other citizens of the world.)

PH action

In 2015, Filipinos expressed solidarity with the Rohingya when no other country wanted to take them in.

The Philippine government was the first to offer shelter and protection to thousands of refugees whose lives were at risk while drifting aimlessly at sea.

Earlier this March, President Rodrigo Duterte donated $300,000 (P15 million) for humanitarian assistance to the marginalized Rohingya people in the Rakhine region.

The UNHCR is working round the clock in Bangladesh to support the thousands who continue to arrive, often exhausted, hungry, and deeply distressed. (READ: Myanmar has failed to protect Rohingya from atrocities – UN). – Rappler.com

In this season of giving, UNHCR or the UN Refugee Agency, is asking the public to help thousands of families displaced by conflict and violence. Support can be given through its donation drive Share the #GiftofHope.

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.