Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Chasing Asylum - Australia's shameful secret

Today, CBC aired out a thought-provoking and somewhat alarming interview with Eva Orner, director of a new documentary called Chasing Asylum. Tagged "The film the Australian government doesn't want you to see", the film features disturbing, secretly-recorded and never-before-seen footage from Australia's detention centres for intercepted refugees, which are located on the Pacific island nation of Nauru, and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (the latter apparently slated for closure).
Since 2001, it has been official Australian policy to intercept refugee boats, and government pronouncements have made it very clear than anyone caught trying to enter illegally will never, ever make Australia home. These would-be asylum seekers - mainly from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka - may be kept in these detention centres for many months, even years, with no ability to process asylum claims, and effectively outside the system and away from any possible publicity or prying eyes. The refugees are offered a choice of settling in Nauru - a failed state with huge unemployment problems and no facilities for refugees, all but destroyed by unfettered mining, and offering no future prospects for the asylum seekers - or a return to the very homeland they are seeking to escape. There are rumours that Australia is looking to pay tens of millions of dollars to countries like Cambodia, Thailand and Kazakhstan to take the refugees off their hands.
The documentary-maker argues that such a policy, which has been a popular one over a succession of recent elections, plays on the fears of many Australians of being overrun by foreign cultures and "undesirables", and underscores the essentially racist attitudes prevalent in Australian society. The solution is certainly not cheap: Australia currently spends about $1.2 billion a years to maintain camps for about 2,000 refugees, much of it going on military-style security companies and, effectively, bribe money for the governments of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Even though the camps themselves are run on a shoestring, with substandard accommodation, poor food, and young and inexperienced staff, the kick-backs to the host countries still end up costing the Australian taxpayers a lot of money.
Some of the most harrowing parts of the documentary deal with the conditions in the camps. Most of the inmates, and even many of the staff that end up working there, are traumatized by the experience. Accommodation is in mouldy tents with cardboard and mud floors; malaria and other diseases are rife; food is substandard and maggot-ridden; mental illness, and self-harm in horrific ways, is commonplace; sexual abuse of both adults and children (mainly by local residents) is rampant.
Working on the film has caused Ms. Orner to question Australia's very status as a civilized and democratic country. None of the prominent Australian politicians who are, or were, in a position to confront the situation agreed to be interviewed for the documentary. Their public standpoint, when pressed, is that this is the policy that the voters of Australia want. Ms. Orner argues that the voters are just not aware of the facts, and neither are most of the country's politicians, and her brave film is intended to present the hidden facts so that people can make a more informed decision. I wish her the best of luck.

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