Since the arrival of the Tampa in 2001, Australia’s mainstream political parties have presented Australians with only two choices regarding the issue of people seeking asylum who arrive by unauthorised sea voyages. The first was to maintain the status quo, which they say would mean a continual flood of foreigners coming to our shores, risking their lives and dying at sea or on the shores of Christmas Island. The second option, first proposed by the Howard government as the “Pacific Solution”, and later extended under the Rudd and Gillard governments through an agreement with Papua New Guinea regarding Manus Island, decreed that refugees arriving by boat would never be resettled on mainland Australia. The policy sent the message that travelling here by boat meant a one-way ticket to the remote, hostile islands of Nauru and Manus, until the asylum seekers found to be refugees chose to settle on one of them, or elected to risk the journey back home to face again whatever brutality they had tried to escape.
Until Eva Orner’s film Chasing Asylum was made, Australians have had very little direct evidence upon which to form opinions of the human cost is of “stopping the boats.” This was because the government has been mostly successful in banning journalists from interviewing the desperate people held in these offshore detention centres. The moving documentary she has created, with the help of many wonderful donors in the Jewish community and across Australia, graphically exposes the real impact of Australia’s offshore detention policies. It explores how ‘the Lucky Country’s’ leaders choose detention over compassion and exposes the government’s deprivation of basic human rights. The film features never before seen footage from inside Australia’s offshore detention centres, revealing the personal impact of sending people in search of a safe home to languish in limbo.
Orner, 46, grew up in Melbourne’s Brighton and was a graduate of Mount Scopus Memorial College. According to a report in the SMH, while she considers herself non-practising, her family’s Jewish background left a powerful impression on her view of the world. With three out of four of her grandparents dying during the Holocaust, Orner’s Polish-born parents were welcomed to Australia as post-war immigrants. “It’s always been an issue very close to my heart as a first-generation Australian and a child of a family that was pretty devastated by the Holocaust,” she says. “My parents were both born in 1937 – Poland, Jewish – so I was brought up with a pretty strong sense that terrible things happen to good people and that people are often in situations where they need help and support and kindness and generosity.”
In an incredible act of generosity, Eva is allowing anyone interested in this issue to organise a screening of this film at a theatre of their choice.
Given that we are now in an election campaign where there are clear policy differences between Labor, Liberal and Greens on this issue, in the lead up to July 2, Eva has strongly urged Australians to consider supporting candidates who advocate more reasonable polices that can prevent deaths at sea, without resorting to the cruelty of offshore detention.
In a situation that often seems so hopeless and tragic, my hope is that this film will challenge those who have hardened their hearts to the plight of some of the world’s most desperate people, and lead them to support more compassionate policies.
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