Chasing Asylum – A Confronting Exposé


Today, I am going to introduce an Australian-made film — Chasing Asylum. It is a realistic and detailed recording comprised of news clips, text inserts and interviews about astonishing facts of asylum seekers and refugees in the detention centers located in Nauru and Manus Island of Australia. It is so important that I believe everyone, from national or international, needs to know what is happening over there and what the Australian government is trying to hide from the world.

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Nauru and Manus island are two of the sites where Australian government sets detention centers for asylum seekers and refugees

Every time when we are talking about asylum seekers and refugees, it is very easy to get upset and sympathetic at the moment and forget about them after a while. That is because we are living in a peaceful world, with jobs, accommodations, friends, and most importantly, a life. A day begins with a nice coffee or breakfast, bad traffic, and the first paper on the table. A day goes on with chatting with colleagues and friends, complaining about some people and something, and good or bad news. A day ends with a TV show, a family meal, or a night out. Our life is so ordinary and satisfactory that we ignore those who are suffering near us or in the other end of the world.

But imagine you are one of them, a child, a teenager, a middle-aged man or woman with children, or an old man or woman. The war breaks out in your country, the disease goes wild around your homeland, or there is an earthquake that has destroyed everything. Though reluctantly, you have to leave your country for survival. If you can, you would apply for a visa to a friendly country and claim protection. But what if you are in a situation where an application is not quite possible, for example, you have lost most of your personal documents, you have neither enough money nor knowledge to apply for a visa, or time is not allowed for you to do so. Then you will have to choose another way—travel by boat. What a great idea! I assume you cannot take a lot of luggage because there is no enough space for everyone, and you may suffer from sea sick, and you are risking your life somehow because of the unseen future.

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refugees are travelling by boat

Fortunately, you still make it to another country, a nice and friendly one, because you are assured ahead of time that there will be someone taking care of you, your children and your elderly parents. Even though there seems to be a government advertisement in that country about travel by boat illegal or something, it does not really matter as long as you won’t get killed or be starved to death here. There will always be hope.

Since you are an asylum seeker, the government of the country needs to check everything about you, the medical history, mental assessment and security check. Before they can grant you a protection visa, you wait. You wait in a facility surrounded by the wire fence, located in a place whose name you do not know. You wait with hundreds of people like you and a small group of staffs who are keeping an eye on you. Where you sleep and eat is a renovated shed, hot and humid, and you share it with another two hundred more people. You wait for four or five hundred days. As days past, the situation becomes more and more difficult to handle. Sickness, disease, and infection go rampant around. Children are losing their energy and adults losing their dream. Some people are even trying to commit suicide. Above all, you feel isolated because there are no other people except asylum seekers and staffs. You see volunteers sometimes, and you wish they would come back and tell you how everything is going. You wish people know what you are going through, and most importantly, you want freedom, something you have been losing since you are here. There seems no hope anymore.

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A World War II shed is used as the accommodation for asylum seekers.

The film Chasing Asylum is 96-minute long, produced by Eva Orner, an Australian film producer and director based in Los Angeles who won an Oscar for producing 2007’s Taxi to the Dark Side. In her interview with The Feed, she mentioned two reasons why she made this film. The main reason was she felt that “people did not know what was going on, and that is partly because of the policy of secrecy that Australian government has been operating on detention center in the Australia and offshore”(The Feed 2016). Film-makers, journalists and photographers are not allowed to go to detention centers, while staffs working there are not allowed to disclose information to the outside, so no one has seen what is going on (The Feed 2016). The other reason was that she wanted the film to be seen internationally so as to put international pressure on the Australian government (The Feed 2016). Orner was not advocating that the detention center should be closed or asylum seekers should not be allowed in Australia. Actually, she was not proposing any solutions at all (The Feed 2016). In my opinion, all she wants is attention. The attention can come from Australia, or it can also come from refugee countries, developed countries and developing countries. She wants this attention to help stop the torture and maltreatment in the detention centers and to help create a basic living condition for the miserable people whose human rights are reserved.

As posted by Luke Buckmaster (2016) in The GuardianChasing Asylum has “painted a sobering overall picture of a government that asks its citizens to abide by rule of law, but shows little obligation to do so itself (Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers has been found to violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture and has recently been ruled illegal by Papua New Guinea)”. It is actually related to every Australian in a way that we live by the law but the government who should support us do not do what they have promised. The refugee policy might be just one of the government secrets and if we do not care about what is going on and do something to change, the same thing could happen to us.

Australia is always labelled as a friendly, democratic and humane country with the well-developed policy for everyone. But it is right in such a country that inhumane and heartbreaking things are happening under the supervision of the government. That is not acceptable. The film Chasing Asylum simply shows the fact of a very controversial yet serious issue, which can give us a lot to think, about the future of these refugees as well as ourselves.

Link to the trailer:!trailer/fbevv


Buckmaster, L 2016, ‘Chasing Asylum first look review – asylum seeker documentary is vital and gut-wrenching’, The Guardian, 29 April. Available from: [21 August 2016]

The Feed 2016, Eva Orner talks Chasing Asylum, YouTube video, 09 June. Available from: [21 August 2016]

4 comments on “Chasing Asylum – A Confronting ExposéAdd yours →

  1. Hi Summer,
    After you introduced this film, I really want to watch it. Not for making myself sad, but to make myself realize what a good life I have and also have an insight of what is really going on in this labelled as “humane” country. As your target audience—a foreigner living in Australia who wants to know everything about it, I am not saying this because I want to humiliate this country with “human rights” stuff like many western countries have done with China, but to see every aspect of the country that I am associating with right now. You helped me with opening another angle of seeing this country. I think it’s normal that every country or government has some secrets hiding from its people. And we have to admit, the dark side of our country is also a part of our culture. However, the role of journalism or conscious media is to be the truth revealer— to reveal truth in a right way so that people would know about it and do something to improve it. Sometimes, government says one thing, but it does another. And this film would make me think more about the “truth”, and maybe inspire more people to put some “pressure” on the government to do a better job as they promised when they won the election. It’s true that people are not willing to step out of their comfort zone to see the flaw of their satisfactory life, but I think if you are brave to take the first step, your view of your own culture and country would be more concrete. Thanks again for sharing!

  2. If I were a domestic audience in Australia, I would like to watch this movie. From your introduction, I get that this documentary film is about the tragedy found at detention centers in Australia. It includes secretly recorded footage from inside the centers and documents the stories of some detainees. Therefore I would have a chance to get to know more about what is really happening in this country.
    From the illustration, I can see that he conditions at the centers seem quite horrific, and there are crowded people on the boat and creepy shelters. I would really want to know the situation of that detention camps and whether it is true that the refugees are tortured there. I would want to know the TRUTH.
    And I also believe the more people watch it, the more attention it will gain. It is important to let the world knows how Australia is treating detainees in the centers. Maybe this detention camp will close since it has been exposed to folks, but what about other places like that? I hope people will not just focus on this single camp, but on those issues that the government doesn’t want civilians to know about, so this film might be just a jumping-off point for people to think about refugee policy and laws and to think about what a human being should act towards this kind of issues.

  3. Hi Summer, thanks for sharing the trailer for this documentary. How did “Chasing Asylum” make you feel when you were watching it? What were the images or stories that stood out to you? I often think it’s detail that has the power to change people’s minds and reach them on a deeper level more than facts and statistics. It’s truly atrocious what successive Australian governments have done to asylum seekers coming here asking for our protection. It’s also shameful what they have done to individuals and organisations who have sought to help and advocate for them – demonising groups such as Save The Children, suggesting activists encourage self-harm, criminalising whistleblowing by detention centre staff and doctors. It’s a truly poisoned debate in which there’s broad agreement from the major political parties and a refusal from the most rabid supporters of the status quo to even acknowledge their critics might have a genuinely felt basis for their opposition. What you said about how our comfortable lives prevent us from thinking about these issues or doing more really resonated with me. My own activism in this area is limited to attending rallies, making donations to groups that support asylum seekers, signing petitions and letter writing, and sharing articles on social media. I often feel I can and should be doing more, partly because I have friends and friends of friends who do. It is worth noting that there are many Australians who do oppose offshore detention and act (and vote) accordingly – including churches and religious groups, whose courageous political activism has deeply impressed at least one atheist (me). Systemic abuse can take decades to dismantle; I hope it happens sooner, and I’d love to see this documentary made more widely available and ‘shareable’ to that end!

  4. Thanks for the suggestion, Summer. Convincingly and compassionately written (as if you alone went through that journey)! Thoughtful comments from the audience.

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