Monthly Archives: June 2012

A globally responsible solution for displaced refugees

Australia’s policy on refugees continues to be driven by the personal ambitions of politicians in government and opposition who have demonstrated a lack of respect for Australia’s stature as a standard bearer of international laws in the Asia pacific region and a lack of concern for lives of communities that are displaced by war and conflict.

Seeking protection from fear and persecution is not a luxury, it is a basic human right; the statement by the Gillard government that offshore processing helps break the people smuggling “business model” ignores this right by dehumanising the lives of human beings and turning them into commodities. Do those who craft policies for government in this country understand that creating offshore processing centres will not stop the basic human instinct to take risks necessary to escape from danger or are they allowing themselves to be driven by cynical political motives?

It is time we recognised that this is a global issue and not a national “border protection” issue. Offshore processing centre may lower the numbers of people coming directly to Australia by boat but it cannot put a full stop to people attempting to make the journey by boat to seek the protection they desperately need. The offshore processing centre will just add to the tally of interim camps for refugees who will keep trying to reach for a more permanent and secure location whether there is a policy to stop this or not. We need to recognise that oppression reduces the limits of risk and desperation. We need to come up with a more humane and globally responsible solution for displaced refugees and not place an extra burden on less wealthy countries to serve our national interests.

Our condolences for those families who have lost their loved ones in the boat tragedy off Christmas Island

RISE is highly critical of AMSA’s rescue centre not taking immediate response despite receiving calls from the vessel indicating it was experiencing difficulties on Tuesday 19th of June 2012. It took over 40 hours, since receiving the call, until the Customs and Border Protection flight departed from Christmas Island to search for the boat. Deaths are sure to be expected. This is not just the Indonesian authority’s responsibility, it is ours also.

Asylum seekers take the ultimate perilous journeys to seek refuge, this being a great example of their desperation for freedom and safety. It is shameful Australia has made it a pawn in their fight for power. The deaths of these asylum seekers attempting asylum in Australia, over the last decade, seems only to result in a recurring theme of debate and rhetoric with no progressive and humane solution being provided.

(Photo credit: Adam Chamness)

RISE Review: Hope in Settlement—Emerge Festival 2012

Dominic Golding (ONE STAR):

The theme for this year’s Refugee Week is Restoring Hope. In this vein, the Ethnic Community Council of Victoria (ECCV), Multicultural Arts Victor (MAV) and Adult Multicultural Education Services (AMES) got the Playback Theatre Company to present a performance of stories by refugees with the goal of achieving community engagement.

Hope in Settlement is described in the MAV program as “actors and musicians bring[ing] the audiences stories of hope and resilience in a way that this is entertaining, surprising and transformative”. It intended to be an improvised psycho-performance staging of the narratives on settlement, housing and employment and politics of inclusion. The Playback Theatre’s methodology or approach is that by playing back the client’s life journey, the performance validates the client’s place in the world; rebirth from an evil land. It is meant to be a therapeutic approach to working with communities.

Themes of hope, struggle, trauma, freedom, courage, love, new beginnings, new homeland depicted by the backdrop of visual art works from the Heartlands exhibition are teased out by a facilitator coaching the audience to open up . Four life stories from the audience were explored by four actors. Essentially what was presented was a series of vignettes, skits, signed imagery, and a re-enactment of a story. At face value, Hope in Settlement did re-enact a person’s story well, and I believe the participant got a lot of lovely surprises in seeing their story played back to them. The audience was also genuinely entertained.

However, I believe that a number of environmental factors did not play well to the “transformative” angle of the performance:

The audience was mainly migrant or former refugee staff workers and executive of ECCV, AMES and MAV. However, there was a marked absence of members of the general public in the audience considering that the production is listed in the Emerge Festival program. Out of the four participants, only one clearly identified themselves as a refugee and I strongly believed he was planted because the facilitator admitted he knew of the client’s history prior to the event. This undermines the random, improvisational nature of the production. This initial narrative was of a client – a boxer of African background who sought asylum in Australia while competing here for the Commonwealth Games. The other three stories were from AMES staff – a housing worker, a migrant employment worker and the General Manager of AMES. The oral stories as a stand-alone public act were the most interesting, full and honest out of the whole show. The actors did do a commendable job with the material given.

I can confidently state Hope in Settlement was not empowering to any refugee sitting in the audience. With the limit of five minutes for a participant to tell their story, the participants fell back on clichés and set-pieces which projected the standard humanistic narratives about refugees. The themes reiterated signs, symbols, and myths of benevolence; the West assisting the “44 million refugees of the world, and that we in [a] rich country can do so much more” (AMES General Manager narrative). It was a play where the stakeholders can give themselves a nice validating pat on the back for doing a job well done at the end of the night. At best, it was preaching to the converted. At worst, it was self-marketing to brag about how fantastic your service is to fellow NGOs—a glorified networking exercise.

There was no mass body of any refugee community to really “create a unique performance from the stories of audience members” (Emerge Festival program). It takes trust to get a person to open up and be genuinely frank about their experiences. Usually, a Community Development project takes three to eight months to unpack raw emotion relating to displacement and the struggle to find a place “in the new heartland” (Heartlands Exhibition program) – the type of stories that I came to see and hear and that mainstream community members need to see. The production limited itself by not broadening its audience base, given that community engagement was the intention. There is no easy answer to breaking down the communication barriers and myths surrounding refugees but I believe a good start is to empower refugees by giving THEM the tools and the skills to tell their own stories, not through replication by a group of well-meaning Anglo actors and facilitators.

Criminalising smuggling does not prevent the free movement of people

RISE is highly critical of ABC’s Four Corners report on people smuggling which aired on Monday 4 June, 2012 in its failure to address the most pressing aspects of the issue of refugees and asylum seekers. We condemn ABC’s obvious descent into the fear-mongering and dog-whistling around this issue that has been indicative of Australian politics since mandatory detention was instated as official policy, and perhaps well before that when White Australia was the state’s prerogative.

Criminalising smuggling, which is the narrative this report chooses to contribute to, cannot and does not prevent the free movement of people, particularly in the current climate of global financial instability, food scarcity and war. Millions of people are forcibly displaced from their homes due to factors such as persecution, war, state terror and natural disasters. In the search for a safe life for themselves and their loved ones, people will move to escape these circumstances. Opposing “smuggling” – a means through which people travel to ensure their safety and well-being – is to take a position against refugees and asylum seekers.

Rather than focusing on this non-issue, ABC could have taken a more productive and critical look at why people are fleeing their circumstances in the first place. The Four Corners report could have looked into political and economic arrangements between Australia and some of the countries from which people have been forced to leave – Australia’s complicity in atrocities in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka has been documented. In short, it could have taken a more journalistically honest and thorough look at the environment that allows an industry like smuggling to work.

Appalling Medical Services for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the Community

RISE is extremely concerned about the current, appalling medical situation that refugees and asylum seekers are facing while they are settling in Australia. There are a number of medical cases that have not been properly reviewed or given high priority, as they should be. This creates more and more disadvantage amongst refugees and asylum seekers who have already struggled with coming to Australia and have been detained in detention centres for great lengths of time.

According to RISE findings, there are a significant number of medical cases that have been neglected by refugee case workers, not knowing where to refer people or locate proper medical resources. RISE findings also show that many asylum seekers have mental illnesses and have not had the opportunity to be seen by a psychiatrist – even after a year of settling in Australia, they still struggle to establish adequate arrangements for mental health care. Some of the assigned medical organisations and centres have refused to assist cases because they have overwhelming waiting lists and are not equipped with sufficient resources or suitable strategies to accommodate the health needs of former asylum seekers.

Our findings also show that when asylum seekers are prescribed medical drugs, they are not provided with suitable information regarding their use and side effects. There are also a number of former asylum seekers who are amputees, and have not received proper medical assistance or special benefits from Centrelink – and despite this dire lack of services, media and public hysteria regarding benefits to asylum seekers abounds.

According to RISE’s recent findings, asylum seekers have been released into the community by the Gillard government in a hand-washing gesture that does not examine the deeper settlement or health needs of former detainees whilst in the community. This extends to insufficient documentation and research regarding asylum seeker health needs, and totally inadequate federal funding for targeted medical services. We urge the Gillard government to responsibly follow up the settlement needs of asylum seekers within the community, or risk making the transition to community based arrangements for asylum seekers hollow and harmful.