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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Raja Devasish Roy's report on his visit to Australia, July 2010

Raja Devasish Roy's report on his visit to Australia, July 2010

source: http://chakmaraj.com/news-a-events/16-raja-devasish-roys-report-on-his-visit-to-australia-july-2010

Dear Fellow Indigenous AusAID Scholars and Jumma Australians from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Good Day to you all.


I take this opportunity to brief you about my recent visit to Australia (Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne: 20 June - 01 July, 2010) and about the discussions I have had with Australian government leaders (including parliamentarians) and officials, members of Australian civil society and members of the indigenous Bangladeshi community living in various parts of Australia, including students. I also met a small number of Bengali-speaking Bangladeshi people and paid a courtesy call on the High Commissioner of Bangladesh.


My visit would not have been possible, or as fruitful or comfortable, if it had not been for the hard work, organizational skills, commitment and generous support of present and former AusAID indigenous scholars and Jumma Australians from Bangladesh. In particular, I wish to mention the names of some of the leading members of Adivasi AusAID Students Alumni in Bangladesh (AASAB), including Abhilash Tripura (General Secretary) and Mithel Chakma (Public Relations Secretary) of Dhaka, two recent AusAID scholars - Lelung Khumi and Ashok Chakma, Dibos Dewan (Finance Coordinator, CHTIJAA), Kabita Chakma (Human Rights Coordinator, CHTIJAA, Vice President, AASAB) and Joyoti Grech Cato (Media Coordinator, CHTIJAA) of Sydney, and Nabarun Chakma (Member, Executive Committee, CHTIJAA) and Pranjal Khisa (Member, Executive Committee, CHTIJAA) of Melbourne. There are several others, and I have mentioned at least some of them, in another email. My apologies for not being able to name the others due to lack of space and time and the failings of my memory.

In this email I write to you about the likely situation concerning future AusAid support for indigenous Bangladeshi students’ studies in tertiary-level educational institutions in Australia in the post-2011 period. I will discuss about other Education issues in a separate email.


Prior to departing for Australia I called upon and briefed H.E. Dr. Justin Lee, the High Commissioner of Australia in Dhaka, Ms. Kilmeny Beckering Vinckers, Deputy High Commissioner and Ms. Rachel Payne, First Secretary (Development) about the forthcoming visit and its aims and sought their advice, if any. They advised me put forward our case for the continuation of the Australian scholarships and on other areas of Australia-Bangladeshi cooperation including Education in a free and frank manner. I thanked them for their cooperation and advice, from which I have benefitted.


I held several meetings with Australian leaders, accompanied by Kabita Chakma, Dibos Dewan and Ashok Chakma. In one of the meeting, Engineer Padma Ranjan Chakma also joined the team (hereafter ‘Jumma Delegation’). The leaders and officials we met on 21-23 June, 2010, included the following:

 Mr. Michael Dillon, Senior Advisor, Office of the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

 Hon. Laurie Ferguson, MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services

 Hon. Janelle Shaffin, MP

 Ms. Sandra Vegting, Human Rights Director, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

 Mr. Richard Neumann, Director, India Political, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh Section, DFAT  Ms. Lou-Ellen Martin, Executive Officer, Human Rights and Indigenous Issues Section, DFAT

 Mr. Marc Purcell, Executive Director, Australian Council for International Development (ACFID)


o Hon. Michael Danby, MP, Labour Party, Chair, Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs (SCFA)

o Hon. S. Robert, MP, Liberal Party, Member, SCFA

o Hon Phillip Ruddock, MP, Liberal Party, Member, SCFA

o Senator M. Forshaw, Labour Party, Member, SCFA

o Dr. John Carter, Secretary, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee

o Ms. Donna Quintus-Bosz, Office Manager, Parliament of Australia

 Hon. Bob McMullan, MP, Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance

 Ms. Vanessa Hegarty, Adviser to Hon. Bob McMullan, MP, Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance

 Ms. Catherine Herron, Country Program Manager, Nepal and Bangladesh, South Asia Section, AusAID

 Ms. Sun-Hee Lee, Director, South Asia Section, AusAID

 Ms Jacqui Powell, AusAID

 Hon. Harry Jenkins, MP, Speaker of the House of Representatives

 Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, MP, Former Leader of the Opposition


Our discussion included the following issues:

 expression of gratitude (by the Jumma delegation) to the Australian government for the scholarships

 description of the manifold benefits obtained by the scholars and their families, and wider indigenous, CHT and Bangladeshi society and economy, on account of the scholarships

 request for continuance of the scholarship scheme beyond 2011

 continuation of equal opportunity and affirmative action measures for members of the numerically small or otherwise disadvantaged groups among the indigenous peoples, if necessary by lowering admission requirements

 special courses, including on English language, for prospective indigenous AusAID students, at district-level, and at the Australian universities and other institutions upon arrival in Australia (to be funded by AusAid), including for the numerically small or otherwise disadvantaged groups among the indigenous peoples

 opening up the scholarships to indigenous/Adivasi students from areas within Bangladesh outside the CHT

 enhancement of number of scholarships in tune with the proposed ‘upscaling’ of Australian development aid

 increase in the number of subjects at under-graduate and post-graduate levels (including Medicine, Information Technology, Finance, Social Sciences, etc)


We highlighted the manifold benefits that our scholars obtained on account of their studies in Australia, emphasizing that in the absence of the scholarships, they would not have been able to obtain such competitive levels of degrees and diplomas. It was stressed that comparable scholarship opportunities from other developed country governments was not available. The impact on indigenous society through the leadership role of scholars was highlighted. The case of Lelung Khumi, the only known Khumi graduate, was mentioned. The delegation offered to provide further information on the Australian graduates, their current employment status and the manifold positive impacts upon their communities {Adivasi AusAID Students Alumni in Bangladesh (AASAB) may perhaps prepare a brief chart/table on the issues}.


In short the likely scenario looks very promising. Several senior Australian leaders, including the Hon’ble Bob McMullan, MP, Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, that we can expect the award of scholarships in Australia to indigenous students from Bangladesh in the period after 2011. We were advised that AusAID support as a whole will be up-scaled (probably doubled), and that a high focus on the Education sector would be continued. Some of the leaders/officials wished to know the extent of scholars who were now living in Bangladesh or elsewhere or had migrated to Australia. A common question was the extent of benefit to CHT indigenous society. We must, therefore, clearly demonstrate this. I wish to write “thank you” letters and emails to all the leaders and officials met. I look forward to your cooperation to help myself and other members of the Jumma delegation to supply the necessary data to them, embellished with photographs, success stories and so forth. At meetings attended by senior indigenous Jumma Australian citizens, including Kabita Chakma and Dibos Dewan, as well as Ashok Chakma and myself, assurances were given by the Australian political leaders present that the scholarships to indigenous Bangladeshi students at Australian universities would be continued.


However, it is too early to celebrate. We nevertheless need to continue to lobby until the matter is decided upon in black and white. We also need to inform the Government of Australia, with details, about the past, present and likely future benefits that the AusAID scholarship scheme on the cultural identity and integrity, rights and welfare of the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh and upon greater CHT and Bangladeshi society and economy.


Upon return to Bangladesh, accompanied by Abhilash Tripura, General Secretary, AASAB, I called upon and briefed Ms. Kilmeny Beckering Vinckers, Charge d’Affaires a.i. and Ms. Rachel Payne, First Secretary (Development) about our delegation’s visit to Canberra on 8 July, 2010. During the last meeting it was suggested on behalf of the Australian officials that we send in a report on the current whereabouts and employment status of former AusAID scholars and that they would annex the report or otherwise send highlights of the report from Dhaka to Canberra in a formal manner. We promptly agreed to this suggestion as this was an opportunity to have some sort of formal endorsement of our views from the Australian mission in Bangladesh. INFORMAL DEBRIEFING DISCUSSION WITH AASAB MEMBERS Following the aforesaid meeting with the Australian High Commission and AusAID officials in Dhaka, an informal debriefing dinner meeting was held with a number of AASAB members and observers at my Dhanmandi residence on 09 July. The members included Abhilash Tripura and Mithel Chakma, General Secretary and Public Relations Secretary, AASAB, respectively, and Rana Jyoti Chakma, Subasish Chakma, Borendra Lal Tripura and Bidhayak Chakma. Among others the necessity of preparing a few reader-friendly reports – embellished with boxes, success stories, case studies, annexes as necessary – providing information on the current whereabouts and employment status of former AusAID scholars and the nature and extent of the benefits accruing to indigenous, CHT and Bangladeshi society and economy from the role of the scholars. AASAB members Mithel Chakma and Abhilash Tripura will be the focal persons to compile the proposed report.


We can be hopeful of the continuation of the scholarships, and of inclusion of indigenous students from the regions outside the CHT (“plains” regions). However, we must do all we can to convince the Government of Australia about the usefulness of the scheme. We should ensure that students do not abuse the privileges of the student visa (e.g., by attempting stay on in Australia after they conclude their studies or try to change their visa categories).

We should also approach the Government of Bangladesh – in particular the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs and the Hon’ble State Minister, Dipankar Talukdar, MP – and keep lobbying. With kind regards and best wishes,

Devasish Roy Chakma Raja & Chairperson Adivasi AusAID Students Alumni in Bangladesh (AASAB)

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