Chasing Asylum 4

Inside the detention camps

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.

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 fourth 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.

Orner begins by giving us a geography lesson as a map of Nauru and Manus Island appears on the screen. Many miles to our north the two islands sit by themselves. Their position spells isolation. I was reminded of the confinement provided by Alcatraz. These islands were no different.

Then we are presented with footage taken from inside the detention camps. At first you are confronted with shiny 4 metre high wire fences, crowned with ribbon wire. But this is the only shiny feature on the island because behind the fences we find row upon row of canvas tents. Yes, tents.

The footage was taken during some hot weather. Tent flaps swayed, mosquitos and flies feasted and sweat ran down the faces of the detainees.

Living conditions were quite basic. The tents appeared to be powered by electricity. Some appeared to have running water. Food was served in a community hall. Showers and toilets were communal.

But as happens to tents that have seen a number of seasons, most of them were worn and faded and torn. Their ceilings were lined with mould and mildew.

This is what a billion dollars a year buys.

The Australian government has placed an embargo on reporting from the detention camps. Whistleblowers face significant penalties if they speak out.

The “heroes” of the film are the Australians who were prepared to provide secretly shot footage from inside the camps. Some whistleblowers were not afraid to show their faces and give their names. Others, understandably wished to preserve their anonymity.

Who were these Australians? Each of them was well intentioned and responding out of charity. Each had travelled to these remote locations to assist the asylum seekers. Some were at the camps because they responded to advertisements by such charities as Save the Children and the Salvation Army. Many responded to ads on Facebook.

Everyone of them did not anticipate the horrors they saw and the inhumanity they experienced at the camps

Others were professionals, doctors or nurses or counsellors who wished to assist at the camps.

On arrival at the camps the volunteers were given no training. They were told to be friendly towards the detainees. Many quickly fell into despair as the hopelesness of the situation dawned on them. These detainees have no future, no options, no hope. What do you say to people trapped in a debilitating limbo?

Educational opportunities are limited other than what the detainees organised themselves. Children could attend school with the local population but the many instances of prejudice and vilification saw many detainee children stay at the camps.

Many of the Australian volunteers walked away scarred and damaged by their time at the camps.

What affected me most were the children. Why are we detaining children in such conditions? They cannot pose a security risk. They have committed no wrong. The camps present appalling conditions for young formative minds. And there are many, many children in these camps.

Can we condemn pedophiles. and those who abuse children, when our government sponsors the same desecration of the young in these camps?

Women were not safe. One woman explained she entered into a marriage of convenience to obtain some protection against the gangs that preyed on women. It was not clear whether the perpetrators were locals or other asylum seekers.

How hypocritical to campaign against domestic violence and the maltreatment of women in our society but then turn a blind-eye to the same behaviour occurring in our camps.

How hollow does it sound when our government shrugs its shoulders and says it can do nothing in these foreign locations as it has no jurisdiction?

There were chilling moments in the film such as the discussion with “charity workers” who were deeply upset when they were presented with a “Hoffman” knife and pouch in which to carry it. These hooked knives are used by the volunteers to cut down detainees who have hanged themselves or attempted such hanging.

I didn’t know such a “tool” existed.

The film presented the violence and protests in the camps. Clashes with camp security, borne out of despair and frustration were not uncommon. Violence. not unlike that which resulted in the death of. Reza Barati. who was beaten to death on Manus Island by security staff.

There were images of hunger strikes and lips sewn together. Images of humans at their lowest.

The horror leaves me lost for words so I should draw this blog to a close.

I walked out feeling nothing but shame and disgust for the country I love so dearly.

Our anthem reads:

”…For those who’ve come across the seas

We’ve boundless plains to share;

With courage let us all combine

To Advance Australia Fair…”

Not anymore I fear.