Home Entertainment Film & TV Chasing Asylum: Documentary Exposes Australia's Offshore Detention

Chasing Asylum: Documentary Exposes Australia’s Offshore Detention

Chasing Asylum is a documentary film by Academy Award-winner Eva Orner. It’s a film that shines a light on Australia’s treatment of Asylum Seekers — it’s a film the Australian Government doesn’t want you to see.

Synopsis on the Chasing Asylum website:

A drawing made from a child growing up in Australia's offshore detention centre. (Image: arenamediavideo via YouTube/Screenshot)
A drawing made by a child growing up in Australia’s offshore detention center. (Image: arenamediavideo via Screenshot/YouTube)

It had its world premiere at Hot Docs, and has now been released in theaters across Australia. The film played at the Melbourne Human Rights Arts and Film Festival to a sold-out crowd. Its release comes in good time just prior to the federal elections. Sadly, the same month the film premiered, reports came that a Somalian asylum seeker at Nauru detention center set herself on fire — this news came just days after the 23-year-old man, known as Omid, died of injuries sustained from a similar act.

The film consists of interviews with former and current social workers from Manus Island and Nauru camps. We learn these young people went to work in the camps with no training in how to counsel traumatized asylum seekers. The workers feel quite helpless as the first question the asylum seekers ask is when will they be leaving? The workers don’t have the answer or know if they will ever be allowed to leave.

All the workers can do is try to ask the people not to kill themselves.

Australia has a policy of indefinite detention — this means that asylum seekers in the Manus and Nauru camps have no sense of the progress of their claims.

Nauru and Manus Island are Australia's Guantanamo Bay. (Image: arenamediavideo via YouTube/Screenshot)
Nauru and Manus Island are nicknamed Australia’s ‘Guantanamo Bay.’ However, the people are being detained for seeking asylum — which is not a crime. (Image: arenamediavideo via Screenshot/YouTube)

The film shows clips from hidden cameras and footage from mobile phones that show the terrible deterioration in mental health. One asylum seeker claimed: “I have to forget my dreams here.” This is a reflection of the state of limbo they are in with no date or thought of future release. Several workers interviewed suggest that the offshore detention process is designed to break people’s spirits, and force them back to their countries of origin.

In 2015, the United Nations report found Australia to be systematically violating the international Convention Against Torture by detaining children in immigration detention, and holding asylum seekers in dangerous and violent conditions on Manus Island. But the prime minister at the time, Tony Abbott, reacted angrily to the scathing findings, saying Australians were “sick of being lectured to by the United Nations.”

In 2015, an amendment to the Australian Border Force Act came out prohibiting “entrusted persons” from speaking about “protected information.”

Forty health workers and humanitarian staff challenged the government to prosecute them for disclosing abuses at detention centers — they wrote this open letter, which can be found in full here.

Here is a paragraph from the letter below:

The conditions and treatment of people in the Manus Island and Nauru detention facilities is akin to institutional abuse. Children and women have been sexually and physically assaulted. Families are living in moldy tents, water is scarce, the toilets rarely work, illness is rife, people are known by numbers, not names.

Asylum Seeker Resource Center:

Nauru and Manus – the facts (5-06-16)

  • 802 people, including 119 children locked up on Nauru
  • 1023 men locked up on Manus Island
  • Cost of running Nauru and Manus detention centres – $1.2 billion per year
  • Average days spent in detention – 442

Never before seen footage from inside Australia’s offshore detention camps - 'Chasing Asylum' film. (Image: arenamediavideo via YouTube/Screenshot)
Never before seen footage from inside Australia’s offshore detention camps — ‘Chasing Asylum’ film. (Image: arenamediavideo via Screenshot/YouTube

Eva Orner, Director and Producer of Chasing Asylum, is an Australian filmmaker who lives in the U.S.A. She produced the documentary Taxi to the Dark Side — a film that exposes the haunting details of the U.S.A’s torture and interrogation practices during the war in Afghanistan. Taxi to the Dark Side exposes a worldwide policy of detention and interrogation that condones torture and the abrogation of human rights. This film won an Academy Award, Emmy, and a Peabody Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Eva Orner said:

Australia's harsh Advertisement aimed at dissuading asylum seekers from arriving in Australia by boat. It fails to even acknowledge that the vast majority of refugees are felling war, torture and terror. (Image: arenamediavideo via YouTube/Screenshot)
Australia’s harsh advertisement aimed at dissuading asylum seekers from arriving in Australia by boat. It fails to even acknowledge that the vast majority of refugees are fleeing war, torture, and terror. (Image: arenamediavideo via Screenshot/YouTube)

What can we do? If you would like to see the closure of the institutions of abuse on Nauru and Manus, click through to TAKE ACTION on the Chasing Asylum website, and see ways you can help raise awareness and take action.

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Jessica Kneipphttp://www.jessicakneipp.net
Jessica grew up in the tropics of North Australia. She writes about films, and occasionally gets to write and direct them. She has a love of silent films, they are the closest she will ever get to "time travel." However, on some real travels she spotted a polar bear while visiting the Arctic, and has enjoyed the view of the Mongolian plains on a train from Russia to China. Her favorite fruit is pomegranate and her most memorable gift is a Super 8 camera from her husband, which she is keen to shoot some footage of Antarctic icebergs on one day.  

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