Chasing asylum, a filmmaker's story by Eva Orner
Harper Collins Australia, 2016. ISBN 9781460751930
(Age: Senior secondary to adult) Highly recommended. As the blurb on the back cover says this is a personal story of what drives a filmmaker to pursue their vision; the doubts, the mental and physical costs of undertaking the challenge of making a film on a subject that nobody seems to want to know about, and which the Australian government wants to make sure that nobody knows about.
Eva Orner travelled to Indonesia, Cambodia, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iran at great cost to her own physical health and safety, to seek out interviews with refugees who had fled their country and taken the risky journey by boat to seek refuge in Australia only to be incarcerated in prison-like camps on desolate islands in the Pacific. She also interviewed the camp workers who became whistleblowers about the inhumane treatment they witnessed.
Bravely she even explores the question of what is a genuine refugee, are asylum seekers truly trying to escape persecution and death or just wanting a better life? The response she got from one interviewee is that he was suffering, his soul was suffering. People were trying to escape danger, war, hardship and persecution, all were seeking freedom and the chance to make a better life for their families.
It is interesting to see the film Chasing asylum and to then read the book. In the book there are so many more interesting personal stories and friendships created in other parts of the world, stories that were cut from the film because, as Eva says, 90 minutes is long enough for a documentary and it was important that the film focussed on the main message about Australia's response to refugees. We as a nation could be doing so much better in caring for people who are simply asking us for help, people who are driven by desperate circumstances to take their chances in a hazardous journey in the hope of a better future. Australia has contributed to people's displacement by dropping bombs on countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria but is not willing to help them when they flee the devastation those bombs cause. Eva Orner's book is a plea for greater empathy, for Australia to become a more generous more compassionate nation. She says 'We are so lucky to live in this country - surely we can share some of this luck?'