Last week the Townsville Bulletin published a letter from Michael Raper, Acting CEO of Australian Red Cross. In the letter, which appeared under the banner, “ A cry for humanity”, Michael Raper shared his distress at the current treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.
The final paragraph of his letter reads “As a society we should be supporting further improvements to community care for asylum seekers, and continually to move away from harsh and inhumane alternatives. It is time to put the vulnerability of asylum seekers back into the debate and to focus on the humanity that unites us all.”
This sentiment was strongly reinforced in the film “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” that was recently launched at the Courthouse Theatre in Townsville as part of a National Tour. The film recounts the experiences of Melbourne lawyer Jessie Taylor who, together with an interpreter and the film’s director, went to Indonesia to meet the people who were contemplating the hazardous boat journey from Indonesia to Australia.
Jesse and her crew travelled across Indonesia and met with 250 asylum seekers in jails, detention centres and hostels. Through candid interviews, hidden camera footage and in the words of asylum seekers themselves, the story of the ‘refugee’ is told. Through watching this film we understand what pushes people to leave home, hear about the things they leave behind, and we also can understand the uncertainty of their predicament in Indonesia and what it takes to turn someone into a ‘boat person’?
The film ends on a poignant note. Many of the interviews in the film were made two years ago. The final images of the film tell us what has happened in the intervening time to the people who we have come to know through the film. Some have settled in Australia, some are in detention centres in Australia, but the majority have either been “lost at sea” or are shown as “whereabouts unknown”.
On the way to the theatre I had been listening to the song “Accident of birth” by Australian songwriter Bruce Watson. Part of the first verse goes
“I could have been a young man on the ocean
Seeking safety far from home
Running from a land that’s sad and broken
Wondering where compassion’s gone.”
Then the chorus
“It’s just an accident, just an accident
Just an accident of birth”.
Watching the film I could not help but think one of the refugees being interviewed could have been me, that woman could have been my wife, the young girl my daughter.
Later in the song Bruce sings
“I happen to be born in a land of plenty
I happen to be male and I happen to be white
It happens that my bowl has never been empty
It happens that I have never been forced to fight…”
Why do we as a nation find it so hard to share – why do we demonise those who flee from persecution and seek refuge in our country where we have so much?