Chasing Asylum 3

Another harrowing story

Eva Orner is an Oscar winning documentary maker. Her documentary Chasing Asylum was released in April 2016. It is compelling viewing and every Australian should see it to appreciate the inhumanity we are sponsoring at Manus Island, PNG and at Nauru.

Over the next few weeks I will be writing about the Chasing Asylum, the film and the book. My hope is not only to raise awareness but to pique enough interest to get people to watch the film and buy the book.

I am hoping and praying that Australians individually and collectively can rise against the inhumanity of our offshore detention policies.

This is my third blog on the book and film.

Australia’s policy is that those asylum seekers arriving by boat after 19 July 2013, will not be settled in Australia, under any circumstances. As such off-shore detention is indefinite detention.

Australia is a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Author David Marr appears in the film and he described the Convention as “The world’s apology to the Jewish people for the Holocaust”. In part the Convention recognises that Jewish people were turned away. from many countries in the 1930s only to return to Europe and face death.

The Convention defines a refugee as:

“…. a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

Another important principle of the Convention is non-refoulement. In other words, a refugee should not be returned to a place where he or she faces the possibility of persecution.

The Convention also confers many rights on refugees namely the right not to be punished for illegal entry, the right to work, to housing, to education, to public relief and assistance, to freedom of religion, to access to the courts etc.

Pretty generous.

In August 2001, a small boat carrying 438 predominantly Afghan Hazra asylum seekers that had departed from Indonesia heading for Australia. Just outside Australian waters the boat began sinking. A Norwegian freighter Tampa responded to the mayday call and rescued the asylum seekers.

The Australian government led by John Howard refused permission to the Tampa to enter Australian waters and requested that the asylum seekers be returned to Indonesia. When the ship did not turn around it was boarded by military police.

Despite international condemnation, Howard refused to allow the asylum seekers entry to Australia. This was followed by the cry “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.”

Australia had flouted the Convention but no one seemed concerned.

Howard who was well behind in the polls before the Tampa incident saw fortune swing in his favour as he later sailed to electoral victory.

Most of Tampa’s Hazara asylum seekers ended up on Nauru before they were found to be refugees. Many now live in Australia and New Zealand but remain scarred by their horrific experience. The children of Tampa are university students and have integrated well.

Returning to Chasing Asylum. One of the harrowing stories from the film is that of Tahira. She taught at the school that was the feature of my last blog.

Her husband and brother had earlier left Quetta, Pakistan and travelled to Indonesia in the hope of reaching Australia. She spoke to them as they boarded their boat for Australia. She never heard from them again.

She sold everything she had and she and her son and daughter travelled to Indonesia looking for her missing husband and brother. She lives in Cisaura, Indonesia. and teaches at the school. She speaks perfect English.

She has been given refugee status by UNHCR but she is stuck in Indonesia.

She has heard nothing from the authorities about her missing husband and brother. She lives in hope that one day she will be reunited with them.

While it is unlikely she will ever know what happened to them, it is abundantly clear that they perished at sea. In the meantime, she tells her children that their father is in a detention camp in Australia.

These are the people we are paying more than a billion dollars each year to keep away from our shores.