With the migration crisis in full flow around the world; forcing major countries to make big decisions based on their border control, Academy Award-winning director Eva Orner’s, Chasing Asylum is a perfectly timed documentary. Hard hitting and no nonsense, it aims a lot of ammunition towards the Australian government, detailing how they continue to turn away thousands of migrants, by neutralising their efforts to reach Australian shores. This is done by essentially capturing their boats and detaining the refugees, in remote detention centers (Regional Processing Centre) on islands in Indonesia, specifically located in Manus and Nauru. It’s here where the majority of the secretly filmed, undercover footage is shot, managing to document the plight of the refugees being subjected to all manner of inhumane treatment on a daily basis.

There are no special effects here, just unadulterated, gritty details for all to see, and it’s very disturbing. The opening scene shows a haunting image of a migrant boat hoarding very ill passengers, who, like the ones before, had aspirations to supposedly live in a more diplomatic country. What they get, however, is the border police stopping them at the last hurdle, only to be put into another psychological distressing environment, that ultimately is too much to bear.

The camps themselves look like prisons with high fences, with the asylum seekers housed in tents. Families are separated, and left to live in inhospitable conditions, with the children generally developing disorders, because of the lack of facilities that enable them to play normally. The sexual abuse of children and women, combined with the reports of racism, self-harm, suicides, and regular attacks by security personnel and locals, is tragically mentioned throughout. The unhygienic, facilities described as a ‘thriving hub’ for many diseases, with the concerns shared by the staff, seemingly; falling on deaf ears.

Interviews from some of the workers within the camps, who were at the time employed for charities such as Save The Children and The Salvation Army are insightful, highlighting the abuse and lack of compassion that takes place. One staff member shockingly recollects being taught how to use a Hoffman knife, on arrival, in order to cut people down who have hung themselves. Another, a former prison officer headhunted to train the security personnel, disturbingly describes his horror after seeing a world war 2 hut made of tin; in the camp, packed full of migrants and 122 double bunks. They also speak openly about how they felt indoctrinated to make the refugee’s life a misery, effectively telling the detainees that ‘if you come here, were gonna make it worse for you, than if you had stayed where you came from’.

Personal accounts from the detainees staying in the camps, is also eye opening, with many being held in detention for years, incarcerated indefinitely. Almost all have degraded mentally, with the knowledge that they will never be allowed to settle in Australia. The graphic drawings portrayed by some of the detained children, is particularly poignant, rendering their distress permanently in your mind.

The documentary effectively creates a buildup of tension and subversive feelings, depicting an unrest among the refugees. This gradually intensifies, until it reaches a climax prompting footage of the riots within the Nauru facility in 2014. During these riots, many detainees were injured and a few were killed, opening up a can of worms, that points a firm finger in the direction of the Australian government’s policy and stance on immigration.

Digging deeper, the film uncovers a plethora of suspect dealings made by the government to help cover up its inhumane crimes, and ensure its warped vision is manifested. For instance, any whistleblowers would face up to 2 years in prison, and the head of security, mentioned a threat that was made on his life if he didn’t shut up. What is also notable is the size of the huge contracts that are reportedly offered to the charities, guaranteeing the steady deployment of staff at the detention centers.

All in all, this adds to the sense of there being, a more sinister intent, over the humane moral duty, expected from such an influential country.


Chasing Asylum was screened at this year’s London film festival. Find out more via the Chasing Asylum website