Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Video: 'World first' Australian TV series confronts the realities of where refugees come from

By Paul Canning

An Australian TV network is broadcasting a groundbreaking new reality series which follows six Australians as they trace the of refugees journey backwards.

Titled 'Go back to where you came from' - a reference to the slogan flung at many a refugee around the world - it is being described as the most ambitious documentary series ever made for Australian television and a 'world first'.

It starts 21 June during Refugee Week.

The series is being made by the national, government funded channel SBS, which provides multilingual and multicultural radio and television services and was started in the 1970s under a Liberal (conservative government). The six Australians with deeply differing views on refugees and asylum-seekers end up where many of Australia's refugees and asylum-seekers do come from: the dangerous streets of Baghdad in Iraq and Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

SBS commissioning editor Peter Newman says the show was designed to show the full complexity of the issues.

"I feel it's going to be hugely talked about. We're not taking sides. The show itself is editorially neutral.
"What we wanted to achieve was . . . emotional engagement. It's a subject SBS has a real interest in but we wanted to make some must-watch television."
Raye Colbey, 63, lives opposite the Inverbrackie Detention Centre in the Adelaide Hills. She has no sympathy for the asylum seekers who died in December 2010 as a result of their boat hitting Christmas Island. “It served the bastards right,” she says.
The six featured range in age from 21 to 63, come from all over Australia and differ in their political views from strongly opposing the detention of asylum-seekers to wanting to - like the show's title - send all of them back.
"We've tried to bring all the sides of this debate into one microcosm and send them on this journey," says Newman. 
"In terms of the logistical achievement the production company has pulled off with this series, it's quite incredible. When you see the participants ultimately in the Congo and Iraq it is utterly compelling viewing."
Their journey starts with them living locally with recently settled refugees and asylum-seekers - a family of Congolese refugees living in Albury-Wodonga on the NSW/Victoria border and four Iraqi asylum-seekers who spent time in the Christmas Island detention centre and now live in Sydney's western suburbs - before being stripped of wallets, phones and passports and put on a leaky refugee boat. They end up in Malaysia sharing a flat with 52 refugees from Burma.

Some then travel via a Kenyan refugee camp to Goma and others to the slums of Jordan and on to Baghdad.

Because these journeys are so dangerous, UN peacekeepers and the US military had to be called on to safeguard the groups.

Ivan O'Mahoney, from production company Cordell Jigsaw, said:
"They all go through some sort of personal growth. Some had big epiphanies. Even the ones who stuck to their guns at the end of the journey would still say, 'I learned so much'."
The series is supplemented with teaching resources produced with The Refugee Council of Australia and Amnesty International Australia which will go to 2700 high schools. SBS also has a game on its website 'Asylum Exit Australia':
"Your challenge is to get out of an Australia that has suddenly become hostile, and in which the lives of you and your family are threatened." 
"Your success in migrating to another, safer country depends on difficult choices in a world of forged documents, rickety boats, aggressive authorities and overcrowded camps. It also requires no small amount of luck."
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