HCC M&J Blog #6: REVIEW: "Chasing Asylum"

This blog post is a review written by Josh Choi on the documentary "Chasing Asylum" tracing the circumstances undergone by asylum seekers in their endeavor to seek refuge in Australia. If you have heard the terms "boats people" or "detention centre", this is what this documentary is about and what this post is commenting on:

"Before watching the documentary, I think I held a general view held by many of us (though most of us wouldn’t express it publicly). What comes to mind when you think of refugees? For most people it would be "out of sight, out of mind", or a ‘crisis’ we overheard that made headlines for a while, then sort of faded away to be just one of the many socio-economic issues we face today. The reality is it just seems very far removed and foreign.

The old recurring view

We feel uncomfortable with the idea of turning away people who need help, but at the same time, there is an inherent fear of "refugees flooding into the country" - the cost of housing them, feeding them and integrating them into our society seems much more daunting. Furthermore, when we hear the news stories about riots and violence in these detention centres, people sewing their lips and protesting, we shuffle our feet and say: "oh well, we definitely don’t want to let these people in". They appear to us like violent criminals at worst and ungrateful immigration queue jumpers at best. Although there are some stories of possible abuses, we believe what we have been doing until now (as a nation) to be working to eliminate the refugee crisis: the boats certainly have ‘stopped’, and we tell ourselves that it was a necessary evil. "The ends justify the means" we tell ourselves – "there will be a human cost, but a small one for the greater good of the Australian community..."

Debunking misconceptions

The film, through its various interviews with ex workers and security staff as well as secretly recorded footage, explores the impact of our decision to keep refugees in offshore detention centres (Nauru, Manus Island (PNG) and Christmas Island) and that human cost we talked about earlier. Except that when we stop for a moment to think about what the human cost is, we are talking about real injustices happening to real people.

I caught a glimpse of what was happening and realised I would never truly understand the struggles and hardship faced by the people there; People who have lost and fled their homes and left family behind only to find themselves imprisoned in a place where they are subject to violence and abuse, where themselves (especially women) and their children may be sexually abused but are powerless to do something about it. People who are being kept in squalid ‘houses’ made of tarp and without proper sanitation. People, who have, through all of this, have started to develop deep mental health issues like depression and started to show distress, anger, frustration and hopelessness that no one knows or cares. For what crime? Seeking a better future.

I could go on about the abuse and go into the horrific details of real cases because, yes, it gets worse. However, I would instead encourage you to pause for a moment and imagine you and your family fleeing this country, reading the above paragraph replacing ‘people’ with ‘Australians’ and tell me if this evokes a different response in you, knowing that it only really scratches the surface.

For the ex-workers and guards that came forward to bring this issue to light, I know that it did evoke a response. A response that I was starting to feel as I was watching the film. A deep sense of shame that through my ignorance and voluntary inaction, I am contributing to this system of abuse which in essence, is designed to break people mentally and they risked prison to bring this to our attention. For those of you who don’t know, Whistle-blower protection does not apply to the workers in offshore detention centres and they can be prosecuted for speaking out, even in child abuse situations.

What to make of it?

Don’t get me wrong, there is no simple solution. This is a complex issue. This is an uncomfortable issue. It is also a highly divisive issue. Some believe that every refugee must be settled here immediately without delay, others may be convinced that though it’s not ideal, deterrence is a necessity to stamp out other corrupt practices like people smuggling. Whatever your view is on this matter, I do believe that we can all agree that our current policy (of deterrence infringing the UN Refugee Convention) does not reflect our Nation’s values of respect for the equal worth, dignity and freedom of the individual, freedom of speech, mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion.

For those who haven’t seen this film, I would strongly encourage you to take time to see it. The ex-staff and security that decided to do something were not activists or social justice warriors; they were just ordinary people like you and me, confronted with a situation that was so morally and ethically wrong, they decided to take responsibility. The first step all of us need to take is to get educated, accept the evidence and acknowledge that what is happening on Nauru and Manus is wrong. Only then can we take the right next step."

Author: Josh Choi
ditor: Cyril Laugeon