Chasing Asylum I

The Cambodian Fiasco

Eva Orner is Australia’s foremost documentary maker. Raised in Melbourne, educated at Mount Scopus, Burwood, in 1993 she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Monash University.

Her interest lay in film making and soon after graduating she moved to the US.

In 2008, Orner and Cate Blanchett were the only two Australians to be nominated for an Oscar. Orner for best documentary and Blanchett was nominated twice, best actress in Elizabeth: the Golden Age and best supporting actress for I’m Not There.

Commentators predicted that Michael Moore would win best documentary for Sicko. But the commentators were surprised when Orner took home the Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side which examined US torture practices in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

Blanchett went home empty-handed.

So you can imagine how excited I was when Orner tweeted that she was preparing a documentary on Australia’s offshore detention policy.

The documentary Chasing Asylum was released in April 2016 and is currently screening at the Nova Cinema, Carlton. 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.

It is appropriate I should start this series of blogs today, as this morning, half the planet watched Brazil give the Refugee team a standing ovation as it entered the stadium during the Olympic opening ceremony. Australia’s attitude toward asylum seekers and refugees is out of step with the rest of the world, at a time when the world’s refugee population is reaching record numbers, even greater than the displacement that occurred after World War II.

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.

This blog will deal with the fiasco dubbed the Cambodia Solution.

In September 2014, the Australian government announced that it reached an agreement with the Cambodian government to resettle asylum seekers in Cambodia. The deal cost Australia $40 million, this was later increased to $55 million.

Only 5 asylum seekers have taken up the offer, which is not surprising. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world. It offers no real prospects to anyone escaping persecution.

The plan has cost Australia $11 million per asylum seeker.

Orner decided to investigate how the plan was operating by interviewing one of the Cambodian settlers. Tyab is a Rohingya Muslim escaping persecution in Burma. Even Buddhists are guilty of persecuting minorities and in this crazy world, Nobel Peace Prize winners are prepared to turn a blind eye to the injustice. According to the UN, the Rohingyans are the most persecuted minority in the world.

Orner met Tyab in Phnom Penh. He was living on the outskirts of the city in a very poor part of town. He lives in a single room in an underground car park that is lit by a single light bulb. Despite the conditions Tyab keeps his room immaculately clean.

Orner was impressed with his English which he taught himself. To pay his rent, Tyab makes and sells roti. The Jesuit Refugee Service gave Tyab a roti truck and a motorcycle to tow it.

Each morning he prepares the dough in his room and then drives his truck to a busy intersection in Phnom Penh where he sells his roti.

He only clears a few dollars each day which just covers his rent and utilities. Some weeks he has no money and he turns to the Jesuits for cash.

He is a highly intelligent man in his early 30s, small and very thin but strong and resilient.

Despite the Australian government’s significant investment, there is no future. for Tyab in Cambodia. He has UNHRC refugee status and is applying to settle in Canada.

Any country would be fortunate to have a clever and enterprising individual like Tyab, but Australia is paying to keep individuals like him away from our shores.

Where is the logic in Australia’s policy? Why isn’t Tyab here? If we do not want him here, why are we not assisting him and others like him to resettle in another country? What has Cambodia done with Australia’s investment?

Not only has Australia acted. in a cruel and inhumane manner but it has been conned by a third world country for no return.

As often happens in life, one ill-considered action leads to another, such that you are left in an even less defensible position.

What more can I say.