Post 3: Contrasting perspectives

Left: Germans hold signs welcoming migrants (ABC 2015); Right: Hungarian video journalist caught tripping and kicking refugees on camera fired (Joyner 2015)

by Erland Howden

In our group stakeholder mapping exercise, we used a two-stage process, first brainstorming all the actors we could think of and then broadly categorising them to help visualise the outcome and make the results of the process clearer to understand.

One of the first observations following this process was that one can immediately see that the categories do not represent a unified view on the issue. For example, within the category of media, you obviously have widely varying perspectives, from a media organisations like The Guardian or New Matilda who have a stated editorial opposition to Australia’s current policies toward asylum seekers and News Ltd publications who have been variously supportive of current government policies purportedly aimed at ‘stopping the boats’. One can also see significant points of difference between stakeholders in the ‘service contractors’ category, between, eg. Broadspectrum (formerly Transfield, now owned by Ferrovial [Doherty & Kingsley 2016]) who have stuck by their immigration detention centre management contracts despite sustained attack by refugee advocates and whistleblowers such as Paul Stevenson who shared a strong and detailed critique of conditions in immigration detention with The Guardian.

Based on my first lot of research, looking at news media sources on the issue of refugees and asylum seekers, there are a number of actors across categories that seem to share similar values in relation to this issue. If you look at the way, for example, that liberal and left-leaning media such as New Matilda or The Guardian have reported on views from the UN High Commission for Refugees, or refugee advocates like the Refugee Council of Australia. One can determine shared values based on the tone and alignment between editorial stance across stories and the critiques those being reported are sharing. On the ‘other side’ of the debate, looking at actors who are less critical of Australia’s current treatment of asylum seekers, one can also perceive a strong alignment of values between some News Ltd publications and government ministers, based on border security, deterrence, etc.

Image research

In choosing these ten images, I’ve tried to find a selection that represents the key different aspects of this issue, but also reflects the direction of my own research to date and how I perceive the issue.

Left: A boat intercepted off the coast of Australia at the start of last month is taken to Christmas Island (Millcock 2010); Right: Fleeing through the eye of a needle (Kiliç 2015)
Left: A boat intercepted off the coast of Australia at the start of last month is taken to Christmas Island (Millcock 2010); Right: Fleeing through the eye of a needle (Kiliç 2015)

To place the images in a logical context, to me the image of the baby at the Syrian-Turkish border (Kiliç 2015) and the boat of asylum seekers arriving in Australian waters (Millcock 2010) represent the heart of the refugee issue globally – over 60 million people desperately fleeing war, persecution and danger, willing to take great personal risks to reach a place of safety and security. What isn’t visible in these images are the majority of refugees who live in refugee camps, most frequently in a neighbouring country in relatively close proximity to the place they have fled. What also isn’t shown are the smaller number of refugees who arrive, generally by plane, for resettlement in wealthy countries after their asylum applications have been assessed and approved, or the higher profile asylum seekers who have the means to enter countries like Australia on eg. tourist visas and then apply for asylum, sometimes in a public way, once here.

Left: Germans hold signs welcoming migrants (ABC 2015); Right: Hungarian video journalist caught tripping and kicking refugees on camera fired (Joyner 2015)
Left: Germans hold signs welcoming migrants (ABC 2015); Right: Hungarian video journalist caught tripping and kicking refugees on camera fired (Joyner 2015)

The image of Germans welcoming refugees at Munich train station (Unknown 2015) and the well-known image of a Hungarian journalist kicking (or tripping) asylum seekers (Joyner 2015) contrasts two country’s approaches to “welcoming” asylum seekers at one point in time. The image from Munich communicates the compassion and solidarity shown and the safety provided by some communities to asylum seekers. Meanwhile, the image from Hungary shows the suspicion, contempt and lack of respect that other communities show asylum seekers. There are many questions about why different people treat asylum seekers differently, but one influential aspect to consider that might be contributing to individual behaviours and attitudes is political leadership and communication. In Germany, the government’s key message to their citizens was “Wir schaffen das” (we can manage – ie. that Germany should take responsibility, even leadership, as a wealthy country better placed even than others within the European Union to cope with the large numbers of asylum seekers arriving). On the other hand, Hungary’s President, Viktor Orban, has consistently communicated hostility toward asylum seekers and his government’s most well-known policy response has been building a massive fence along Hungary’s borders designed to keep asylum seekers out. On the other hand, these images both obscure alternative views and approaches within these countries – for example, Germany has seen a significant increase in attacks on asylum seeker residences by right-wing groups and individuals (Associated Press 2016), let alone the failings of the system for processing the large volume of asylum seekers there and the broad shift in attitude of the German public to a more negative view of asylum seekers now compared to late 2015.

Left: Rudi, 11, fled Syria with his family after his house was destroyed in the fighting. They are trying to get permission to live in Germany because it is too dangerous to go home. Rudi (centre) was one of a group of children, mostly from Syrian families, taken on an excursion to Wilhelma Zoo by a group called Flüchtlingshilfe Stuttgart, or Refugee Help Stuttgart, late last year. (Howden 2015); Right: Manus Island regional processing facility (DIAC 2012)
Left: Rudi, 11, fled Syria with his family after his house was destroyed in the fighting. They are trying to get permission to live in Germany because it is too dangerous to go home. Rudi (centre) was one of a group of children, mostly from Syrian families, taken on an excursion to Wilhelma Zoo by a group called Flüchtlingshilfe Stuttgart, or Refugee Help Stuttgart, late last year. (Howden 2015); Right: Manus Island regional processing facility (DIAC 2012)

Again, we have a set of contrasting images showing the conditions in which asylum seekers live while having their claim for asylum processed. On one hand is an image I took of a young Syrian boy while on an excursion to the zoo with a pro-refugee organisation in Stuttgart, Germany (Howden 2015). On the other hand, the image of tents at the Manus Island detention centre (DIAC 2012) represents the punitive imprisonment that most asylum seekers arriving in Australia experience, whether offshore or at various onshore detention centres such as Villawood in Western Sydney. While somewhat confronting, the fairly mundane image of the Manus Island facility fails to communicate the shocking conditions under which asylum seekers live and the psychological harm it causes. Similarly, the trip to the zoo represents a reprieve for asylum seeker children from one facility in Stuttgart, compared to their daily living conditions coping with the stress of the asylum application process while dealing with the trauma of the journey to Germany, in which most have a story of witnessing friends and relatives be injured or die through drowning or violence.

Left: Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru protest after the death of their friend Omid. (Macken et al 2016); Right: Free the refugees and let them stay - protest march (Howden 2004)
Left: Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru protest after the death of their friend Omid. (Macken et al 2016); Right: Free the refugees and let them stay – protest march (Howden 2004)

Next we have a set of images showing the responses from asylum seekers and their allies to their situation once they have arrived in a destination country. The first shows a recent protest by asylum seekers at the Nauru immigration detention centre following the shocking death of Omid, the Iranian detainee who died in Brisbane hospital in April after setting himself alight during a visit by United Nations officials (Macken et al 2016, p13). In this image and its necessary context, I read depression and desperation, but also determination and resilience. Given the conditions we know asylum seekers live under on Nauru, it is incredible, brave and powerful that the people pictured managed even this small gesture in the name of their friend. As one of the small number of images of detainees that makes it into the media, there is much we don’t see here – for example, what reprisals or consequences might these protestors have suffered for taking this action, if any? I see pride and defiance in their faces in this image, but what would we see in those faces over the course of a “normal” week living there? The second image I took at a protest march, lead by an Afghan refugee, down Sydney’s George Street (Howden 2004). The interesting thing to consider here is the solidarity shown by people who had experienced immigration detention and been finally granted asylum, with people still caught up in the tortuous process and conditions. On the other hand, we’ve heard anecdotally, for example in the tutorial workshops in this subject that there are many others from refugee backgrounds or communities who feel negatively toward current asylum seekers and agree to varying degrees with current immigration policies.

Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton appearing on ABC TV's 7:30 Report (ABC TV 2016)
Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton appearing on ABC TV’s 7:30 Report (ABC TV 2016)

Second to last, we have an image of Peter Dutton (ABC TV 2016), during the interview in which he simultaneously postulated that asylum seekers were likely to be illiterate and also likely to take jobs away from current citizens. I chose to include this image as it links back to the research from media and peer-reviewed sources in posts 1 and 2 – the ‘banality of evil’ line of thinking. What we see in the image is a carefully constructed scene – a background chosen by the television producers to connote the context of a political interview, a man who we know has been assisted by others to present a particular image – clean, professional, conservative, serious. What we know the image represents, between the widely-publicised logical flaw of the argument he presented and the expression one can read into Dutton’s face, is perhaps representative of the core of the banality argument – that it is a lack of thinking, or ability to think and empathise with the consequences of one’s decisions that can precipitate, in the right conditions, so-called “evil” deeds. I would re-characterise this to say that this image represents a man so insulated physically, emotionally and procedurally – through his privilege, his context and his choice to not think deeply or emotionally about the personal impact of his decisions that he can blurt out logical fallacies with a straight face and be responsible for the cruel and inhumane treatment of other people.

Don’t feed the rumour workshop at the Seomara da Costa Primo secondary school (URBACT 2015)
Don’t feed the rumour workshop at the Seomara da Costa Primo secondary school (URBACT 2015)

Finally, we have an image that I would argue embodies hope. This photo (Unknown 2015) from a workshop in the pilot of the ‘Don’t feed the rumour’ project in Lisbon, Portugal, shows a woman training school students to become messengers in a campaign to challenge and break down stereotypes about migrants and refugees in the local community. Here is a practical initiative, now rolling out across a number of European cities, aimed at improving communities through the building of respect and appreciation for multiculturalism and the contribution migrants make to the communities in which they live. While this project represents a practical answer to issues surrounding resettlement and integration – reducing racism, violence and tension within communities I believe it also could have long-term effects on the attitudes of people engaged by the project’s messengers. The messages the project is delivering, if taken on board by participants, represent values associated with equality and justice principles, internationalist thinking, community and mutual aid – laying the foundation for communities that are more welcoming to future migrants and refugees and may even foster advocates for migrant and refugee rights.

References

Doherty, B. & Kingsley, P. 2016, ‘Refugee camp company in Australia ‘liable for crimes against humanity’, The Guardian, 25 July, viewed 19 August 2016, <http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/jul/25/ferrovial-staff-risk-prosecution-for-managing-australian-detention-camps&gt;.

Kiliç, B. 2015, Fleeing through the eye of a needle, AFP Correspondent, viewed 1 Aug 2016, <https://correspondent.afp.com/fleeing-through-eye-needle&gt;.

Millcock, A. 2010, A boat intercepted off the coast of Australia at the start of last month is taken to Christmas Island, The Daily Telegraph, viewed 28 Aug 2016, <http://www.news.com.au/national/darwin-on-alert-as-flood-of-boat-people-heads-to-australia/story-e6frfkvr-1225841130651&gt;.

Unknown, 2015, Germans hold signs welcoming migrants, ABC The World Today, viewed 28 August 2016, <http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2015/s4306268.htm&gt;.

Joyner, A. 2015, Hungarian video journalist caught tripping and kicking refugees on camera fired, International Business Times, viewed 28 August 2016, <http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/migrant-crisis-hungarian-video-journalist-caught-tripping-kicking-refugees-camera-fired-1518988&gt;.

Associated Press 2016, ‘Rightwing violence surges in Germany’, The Guardian, 24 May, viewed 28 August 2016, <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/23/germany-rightwing-violence-surges-asylum-seekers&gt;.

Howden, E. 2015, Rudi, 11, Crinkling News, viewed 28 August 2016, <http://www.crinklingnews.com.au/2016-01/world-syria&gt;.

DIAC, 2012, Manus Island regional processing facility 2012, Wikimedia Commons, viewed 28 August 2016, <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Manus_Island_regional_processing_facility_2012.jpg&gt;.

Macken, J., Bacon, W., Curr, P., Lawrence, C. & O’Connor, C. 2016, Protection denied, abuse condoned: women on Nauru at risk, Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru, Sydney.

Shall I strive 2004, Erland Howden, Flickr, viewed 28 August 2016, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/erlandh/4756592598&gt;.

ABC TV 2016, Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton appearing on ABC TV’s 7:30 Report, New Matilda, viewed 28 August 2016, <http://newmatilda.com/2016/05/25/the-banality-of-peter-dutton&gt;.

Unknown 2015, Don’t feed the rumour workshop at the Seomara da Costa Primo secondary school, URBACT, viewed 28 August 2016, <http://urbact.eu/%E2%80%98migrant-crisis%E2%80%99-what-can-cities-learn-about-new-service-design&gt;.

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Author: Erland Howden

Designer, photographer & facilitator. Vego foodie. Passionate about environmental justice, community organising & travel.