: Chasing Asylum

Chasing Asylum

Marius Smith

chasing-asylum-smDirector, Eva Orner; CinemaPlus/Nerdy Girl; 2016; 96 minutes (documentary)

When Chasing Asylum was released in May, its Oscar-winning director Eva Orner said that she wanted to make a film that would shock people; her film has clearly delivered on that promise.

The film includes unprecedented footage from inside detention centres, and interviews with some of the many people caught up in Australia’s ‘border protection’ system: the detainees, the guards, the social workers, the family members who will never see a loved one again.

The scenes from inside the centres on Nauru and Manus Island contain a few confronting moments, such as a man with his lips sewn up, but the effect of most of the footage and testimony is cumulative. Over the course of the film, a picture slowly builds of people being subjected to inhuman conditions, giving up on any hope of a better life, while our politicians proudly proclaim that they have not the slightest concern about the human toll they are creating.

In one powerful moment, a social worker talks about a delivery of toys sent to Nauru by Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young. She describes seeing a young girl unwrap a soft pink teddy bear and squeal with joy as she rubs the bear over her face. The social worker and her colleagues are joyous before reflecting on how deprived a child needs to be before she will react that way. ‘We felt like, “what the hell?!”’, she says. 

Orner doesn’t shy away from difficult issues, including the claim that stopping the boats has saved people from drowning. Orner interviews the wife of an Iranian man feared lost at sea and then addresses the ‘drownings argument’ by quoting David Marr, who states that it is ‘profoundly hypocritical’ to claim a humanitarian purpose while treating people so abominably, and David Manne, who says that the policy merely sweeps people away to die elsewhere.

Orner also interviews the family of Reza Barati, who died after riots on Manus Island where locals and police officers broke into the compound, and Hamid Kehazaei, who died after his foot became infected. Hamid’s mother had asked that his organs be donated after his death in a Brisbane hospital. That a man could die at the hands of our cruel immigration system while offering to save a number of Australians’ lives at the same time is an image too distressing for words. 

Chasing Asylum is a film that everyone should see. These things are happening in our name, and they are shameful. 

MARIUS SMITH is Manager of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University.

(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 219
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