Right after the 2019 federal election, at the end of May, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia was delighted to co-host the screening of The Staging Post jointly with Jesuit Mission (JM) at the Ron Dyer Centre in North Sydney. Perhaps because of the timing of the event, as well as due to the rich content of the film, and the special speakers on the night, this was much more than “just a film night.”
The evening raised awareness and sparked intelligent dialogue concerning Australia’s current migration policies. This important documentary was well received by the 130+ audience. JRS were so grateful for the special line-up of panelists. Each gave important insights on the most pressing issues concerning people seeking asylum in Indonesia. Many of these children, women and men remain in limbo for years, largely due to Australia’s punitive policies. Families are often split up, caught between different countries.
The film showed how “seeking asylum” is not a choice; people are forced to flee their homes for very justifiable reasons. In Indonesia, some of these talented people have started an educational movement for refugees and people seeking asylum. Through this educational ‘revolution,’ and through learning, a community has been fostered. The warmth of this community has relieved some of the trauma of being kept in constant uncertainty. However, the film made it clear that the injustice facing people seeking asylum must stop.
The Peace and Justice group of the parish of Our Lady of the Way in North Sydney, known as “Nangami,” had a proactive role in facilitating the event.
The panel comprised of Muzafar Ali (the “star” of the film and prominent Hazara advocate; pictured below, far right), Hayat Akbari (Hazara youth leader who spent time detained in Indonesia and is now the Chair of Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) Youth Working Group) and Lars Stenger (Advocacy Coordinator Jesuit Refugee Service Indonesia). Carolina Gottardo (Director of Jesuit Refugee Service Australia; Board Member & Chair of Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) Women, Gender and Diversity Working Group was chairing the panel and Fr Trung Nguyen SJ (Rector of Jesuit Mission and former Vietnamese refugee) welcomed participants to the event.
Youth advocate, Hayat (pictured above, right) revealed that it can take ten years to get resettlement, with people stuck in Indonesia whilst their families remain in Afghanistan. Now, as a very young man, Hayat is a third year university student studying International Politics. But Hayat’s own route to Australia was fraught with disruption. He was born in Afghanistan but had to flee to Pakistan due to persecution. After that, Hayat returned shortly to Afghanistan, but was forced to flee again to Pakistan. Then he went to Thailand, then Malaysia, then to Indonesia.
Whilst in Indonesia, Hayat attempted to travel to Australia by boat. On the second attempt, the journey was very unsafe, and the riders “thought we were going to die.” The waves were high. They called the Indonesian navy. After 6 hours, the army finally arrived and took them back to Indonesia and they were detained at an Immigration Centre for a year. At this detention centre, the conditions were terrible. Hayat revealed that when this happens, “you are put in a room for a year without going out.”
Apparently, the police took everything; including Hayat’s mobile phone. To call his family, Hayat was forced to bribe a guard. This took three months. Hayat’s first call was to his mother. “My mother believed me to be dead.”
After the detention centre, Hayat went to a community centre. Then he came to Australia. “Australia is a generous country. We can do some advocacy for these people that are stuck there [in Indonesia].” Overall, as a country, Hayat believed, “we can do better.”
The audience applauded Hayat’s for his honesty regarding the political situation and then listened to the insights of Muzafar Ali. Muzafar is a charismatic and honest leader; also from the Hazara ethnic minority group of Afghanistan. JRS was delighted that this “star” of the film actually skyped in from Adelaide on the night. The constant theme of all the speakers was the realisation that seeking asylum is not a choice; but a matter of life or death. Muzafar revealed to the audience that he “never expected such a rollercoaster life.”
Like Hayat, Muzafar left Afghanistan and fled to Pakistan and then to Indonesia. Whilst in Pakistan, two bombs went off and two of Muzafar’s friends were killed in the first attacks.
There was much uncertainty in Indonesia due to Australia’s punitive anti-refugee policies. This sparked Muzafar to start an educational school that used social media to broadcast the plight of refugees. Muzafar noted that “Australians were very in tune to this part of social media” and that “Australians have to take some of the credit for the school in Indonesia.”
Overall, Muzafar revealed that the point of the film is that “refugees are not a threat and that refugees are ordinary people”. He explained that he personally “had to leave and there are millions of refugees in the same situation – they have to leave.” Muzafar cited a very famous proverb by the Persian philosopher and writer, Rumi, “Wherever there are ruins, there are also treasures.”
Also skyping in on the night was JRS Indonesia’s Lars Stenger who has been based in Indonesia for ten years. Consequently, Stenger has seen the changing impact of Australia’s policies in Indonesia. Lars revealed that in recent years, resettlement to Australia has drastically declined. Working in detention centres, Lars has seen a lot of the talent and compassion of refugees and people seeking asylum who have been forced to live in limbo for years.
During the panel questions, JRS Director, Carolina Gottardo (pictured below) gave her opinion on the situation. “The Australian government has drastically changed the resettlement policy” so that it is now “almost impossible to resettle in Australia from Indonesia.” Originally, resettlement stood at about 650 places but was reduced to 450, and then to about 100. During the panel discussion, Lars mentioned that many of these people are in need of medical treatment. “For Australia, it is becoming more and more of a lottery for resettlement” – the chances are so low.
Muzafar noted that “fewer than three per cent of refugees around the world get resettled” so it is “like a lottery.” The host country determines the resettlement. Resettlement criteria is based on vulnerability (for example, children, women in vulnerable situations, people in emergency situations). However, the time that someone has waited is not factored into the equation. Some people have been waiting in Indonesia for seven years.
Muzafar reminded us of Australia’s own responsibility in the creation of the refugee crisis in Afghanistan and to their involvement in the Afghan war, “Australia had a big impact in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.”
After 2011, trillions of dollars were spent in Afghanistan. “The military intervention did not work. The country was very unstable. No funding was put into education. People are going to leave Afghanistan because the US is going to withdraw from Afghanistan and because the Taliban are going to take over.” Muzafar believes that Australia must increase its resettlement numbers because “refugees are a fact.”
Refugees are being exploited by the Taliban. Muzafar says that a solution to this issue is for Australia to increase the resettlement quota.
The other panellists also have important recommendations. Hayat urged for the evacuation of the people from Manus. Already, the suicide statistics following the 2019 federal Australia election reveals that the situation is particularly desperate offshore. The Australian government should follow the example of New Zealand, who is actually taking in people.
Lars Stenger articulated the importance of Australia to be “an example in the region” because when we refuse to resettle people, “other countries in the region follow this example.” Lars also recommended Australia be careful about interfering in other countries’ affairs. Since 2009, Australia has paid for detention centres in indonesia. Carolina noted that “Australia’s policies have gotten worse and they are directly affecting the people in Indonesia” and stressed that community action was so important for change.
The night was truly remarkable due to the speakers and warmth in the room. The people of North Sydney opened their ears, hearts and minds to the situation facing people seeking asylum and saw that seeking asylum is not a choice, but in the words of Muzafar, that “refugees are a fact” and if we are flexible, then from the “ruins, there is hope for a treasure.”
JRS is grateful to all of our speakers and to all who attended the film night.