Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2526

Chasing Asylum film smuggles out the message from Australia’s offshore camps

This article is over 5 years, 3 months old
Chasing Asylum is a documentary filmed in secret which exposes the detention cruelty the Australian government wants to keep hidden, writes?Chris Breen
Issue 2526
Australia’s border Force stopping a refugee boat
Australia’s border Force stopping a refugee boat (Pic: BBC/Nerdy Girl)

This harrowing but powerful film to be shown on BBC Four next week exposes the human impact of the Australian government’s cruelty to refugees.

It uses secret footage to show the brutal realities for refugees inside Australia’s offshore detention camps on the islands of Manus, Papua New Guinea, and the Republic of Nauru.

Footage is cut with statements from former prime ministers, immigration ministers and navy commanders who demonstrate their callous contempt for people who simply want a better life.

The Australian government has gone to great lengths to hide what is happening inside its offshore prisons, banning journalists and lawyers, and threatening whistleblowers with jail.

Chasing Asylum breaks open that secrecy. The damning footage inside the offshore refugee prisons is one of the film’s strengths. It is currently showing in cinemas across Australia.

In early October, footage was projected on the Australian high commission building in London. Director Eva Orner wanted to “goad Alexander Downer, the Australian high commissioner to the UK, to finally engage in a debate about what’s going on”.

Downer was an architect of Australia’s “Pacific Solution” and a vocal supporter of offshore detention.

The film includes smuggled-out interviews with detainees, and snapshots of the appalling conditions and the bleak daily life for imprisoned ­refugees. Indefinite detention has caused many to develop mental illnesses, a few have even returned home, only to flee again to seek asylum elsewhere.


The interviews with former detention centre workers are compelling. They speak about their journeys from naivety to outrage at what is being done to the people they thought they were there to help.

Their stories add to the grim and heart breaking first-hand footage.

The film is not perfect. It ends with a dedication to former prime minister Malcolm Fraser. In the film he says that Australia took 70,000 refugees from Vietnam because “it was the right thing to do”. But this glosses over Fraser’s ­support for the Vietnam War which caused the refugee crisis.

And while the film shows some of the inspiring resistance of the refugees

themselves, the growing solidarity movement in Australia is absent.

This would have been a useful antidote to one interviewee’s claims that the detention horrors have happened because “we let them”.

This ignores both how anti-refugee sentiment has been whipped up by politicians and the mainstream media, and how the refugee ­movement can shift public opinion.

Despite minor criticisms, the film remains a must-see for its exposure of the offshore detention cruelty that the Australian government is ­desperate to keep hidden.

Storyville: Chasing Asylum—Inside Australia’s Detention Camps,
BBC Four, 1 November, 9pm


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