“I’ve got a conscience. I was brought up the right way. And I don’t understand how we can do this to each other. So I felt it was my turn, my time. People need to talk up, we need to tell each other what’s going on.”
– Martin, Ex- Manus Island safety and security officer
Consider this ‘talking up’. Chasing Asylum, directed by Eva Orner, is a must-see documentary reporting the human rights abuses taking place inside the Australian owned Nauru and Manus Island detention centres. Hidden cameras provide never-before seen footage of the putrid conditions inside the camps, from the tents graffiti-ed with ‘Kill Us’ and ‘Welcome to the Coffin’, to the squalid bathrooms, to the unventilated war sheds asylum seekers call home. Zoo animals are treated better than this.
In setting out to discuss this film, I thought of all the different angles I could approach to review it. I thought maybe I could try making it a conversational, relatable piece, with an analogy about how tedious camping gets after 4 days, let alone 400 days, which is how long some asylum seekers have been locked up for. Needless to say, that is a ridiculous comparison, idiotic beyond definition. There is no way to relate to this situation. These people are not on a camping trip. This is their life. These people have fled war-torn countries and lives so riddled with fear that our small, safe minds could never comprehend their struggles. These refugees have decided that paying a people smuggler with their lifesavings to board an unsafe, dingy boat with their children to sail to the remote island of Australia is a more plausible option than staying in their homeland. And what do we do when they arrive? We turn them away and lock them up in Papua New Guinea. These are people. These are kids.
Do you know how much taxpayers spend on a single asylum seeker while they are in detention? $500,000. Do you know what these people could make of their lives if we gave them ¼ of that and resettled them? They want to go to university, they want to become doctors, teachers, chefs. They just want a chance. And instead we take them to Nauru.
There is no way to adequately explain the situation asylum seekers have found themselves in since the Australian government resumed offshore processing in November 2012. You just have to see the documentary. It will make you weep, and it should make you embarrassed to be an Australian. Per capita, Australia ranks 67th in the world for its intake of refugees. Good on you, John Howard. Top bloke, Peter Dutton.
One thing that really hit home in Chasing Asylum is the comparison Orner makes to the refugee situation after the Second World War and the Vietnam War. As part of the Geneva Convention, The Refugee Convention was introduced to ensure that those fleeing persecution in their homelands could seek asylum on safer shores. After the Vietnam War, Australia took in 70,000 Vietnamese refugees, honouring that pledge, because those people were displaced, and it was the humane thing to do. Now, we are actively engaged in a war in the Middle East, leaving millions displaced. What happened to doing the right thing?
Please get to a movie theatre and see Chasing Asylum. It is only running nationwide for one week, starting today.