Not So Lucky: Chasing Asylum Review

14 June 2016

Eva Orner’s newest documentary Chasing Asylum premiered in Melbourne on the opening night of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival in early May. A film that examines the inhumane and controversial Australian immigration policy, it has exclusive footage of the notorious offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. It is provoking and will make you uncomfortable but every Australian should watch Chasing Asylum.

The film shows grainy footage of the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru through a handheld, secret camera and this style of filming gives it the feel of a horror movie. While watching, you have goosebumps and are certain something will jump out on the screen. But instead, you see images of appalling conditions and asylum seekers who have no hope and who write “kill us” on the tents they are forced to live in. The whole time it is eerily quiet. Only the footsteps of the secret camera holder are heard. You sit there and understand why detention centre staff are trained to use the Hoffman’s knife, why detainees self-immolate, why mental illness and disease is rife. Your skin crawls.

The film jumps from footage of the camps to the persecution that many refugees face in their home countries and strangely, you feel relieved when this change occurs; there is something about these camps that is more unsettling. One thing the film highlights is just how isolated and small the island of Nauru is. You can drive around its circumference in 20 minutes. It gives the whole detention centre a Lord of the Flies vibe, which is exacerbated by how corrupt the detention centre security guards are, who often abuse and take advantage of asylum seekers.

Prior to the film’s release, immigration minster Peter Dutton controversially stated that many refugees are “illiterate and innumerate” and are a threat to Australian jobs. Such comments play to the moral panic surrounding refugees and perpetuate an unnecessary apprehension towards them. Dutton’s comments are contradicted in the film through interviews with refugees and asylum seekers. The film shows that these ‘boat people’ are often young, speak English and have the simple dream of living a life free from fear. It humanises them and allows their stories to be told.

The film also has interviews with the families of Hamid Kehazaei and Reza Barati; both young asylum seekers who died on Manus Island due to preventable causes. The interviews are deeply upsetting and Orner captures the intense emotional pain the Australian Government’s immigration policy has caused their two families.

But what the film really highlights is how important whistleblowers are in generating awareness. The camps on Manus Island and Nauru are virtually inaccessible, a visa to Nauru costs $7,000. The camps are veiled in great secrecy – not even our Prime Minister has stepped foot inside them. Obtaining information from inside the detention centres is made more difficult by legislation that could imprison whistleblowers for up to two years. Orner herself has a team of lawyers to ensure she and those involved in the film are not prosecuted. Chasing Asylum emphasises how the secrecy and lack of discussion about the camps is both damaging and unethical.

Before the film ends, footage of refugees arriving in Germany is shown. Germans hold up signs that welcome refugees and it’s this contrast that gets me teary. Refugees arriving in Australia are treated worse than animals, while those arriving in Germany receive applause.

It’s after this that the film ends and you are left there feeling embarrassed to be Australian.

It’s after this that you know we are not really the “lucky” country.

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