My research has informed a broader understanding of issues related to refugees and asylum seekers.
I’ve explored the complexity of this area through a variety of institutional and individual perspectives, particularly those of the government, media, and the broader community. A large part of my research has involved researching the experiences of detainees through their self-published media, as I believe that it’s these personal connections and relationships which have the ability to shift public consciousness and lead to change.
Since the early 2000s, the Australian government and the media have politicized refugee and asylum seeker issues. Our government and current legal system have endorsed a societal complacency in relation to these issues, through the introduction of policies like mandatory offshore processing and media blackouts within detention centres. Our media, often referring to and depicting asylum seekers as ‘swarms’ and ‘masses’ have successfully alienated them from Australian society, to the point where the majority of Australians believe that they are unworthy of our protection. If racist attitudes towards those seeking asylum aren’t challenged, these attitudes permeate within our society and will further normalize amongst a larger proportion of the community.
In my project I hope to shift public perceptions and attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers by focusing on refugees’ subjectivity, recognizing and acknowledging the sense of identity they have had taken from them.
I would like to explore a design solution that brings a sense of tangibility to the experiences of refugees who are too often overlooked and sidelined.
One way to convey this would be to compare lives of refugees in detention to those of people in Australia. When I was looking at Twitter accounts of refugees in offshore detention centres, it occurred to me how limited their daily experience is. One way to visualise the lack of activity and stimulation experiences by detainees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus might be to look at how people attempt to deal with the boredom and mundanity of detention. This could be explored through posts made by asylum seekers on Twitter, which provide an insight into objects and ideas in their daily routine. These posts highlight how people in indefinite detention struggle to find ways to navigate the sense of limbo that characterises their situation. These insights are rarely communicated in traditional media, thereby, thereby, affirming detainees’ humanity.
Another more tangible option would be a comparison of of physical space and the torment that people go through when they are fleeing persecution, for instance making a model of the size of the boat in the Tampa incident (2001), or the houses which are in Manus and Nauru. This might be visualized through pieces of paper or a physical measurement of the space.
It is our responsibility to engage with these issues as they concern fundamental human rights: to live free from persecution, to self-expression and fulfillment, and to seek asylum when these rights are curtailed.
Summarising what I’ve learnt, not only by doing this blog post but through the entirety of my research (to five simple points):
- The extent to which media content is informed by its political context.
- The effect the media and government have had on the narratives related to refugee and asylum seeker issues.
- A dehumanizing portrayal of refugees can lead to fear and disengagement within the public.
- Refugees and asylum seekers in detention have used twitter as a platform to express counter narratives to mainstream media.
- Tangible experiences allow audiences to greater relate to an issue and the human experiences behind that issue.
Wallman, S, Unselfconscious Space (2014)