Entries to a Sri Lankan film competition are currently being judged for short listing. The twist? The competition is an Australian government initiative, and the films must be based on ‘illegal migration to Australia’.
In its latest attempt to discourage Sri Lankan refugees from seeking asylum by boat, the Australian government has been outsourcing free propaganda to the country itself. The film competition called for “creative” expressions of illegal migration by “budding Sri Lankan filmmakers”.
Submissions were asked to depict “getting caught by people smugglers, risking your life in the rough seas, the effect on the lives of families [and] loved ones and issues faced after being sent back to Sri Lanka.”
Successful films could win prizes whose added value totals over $5000, including a camera, a drone, and a GoPro. Essentially, the Australian government is asking for native filmmakers to create free propaganda for its anti-immigration agenda, for a chance to win a camera.
Professor Sumathy Sivamohan, from the University of Peredeniya in Sri Lanka, is unimpressed. “I thought the competition was horrible. I thought this was exploiting desires of up-and-coming filmmakers in Sri Lanka trying to make it in this industry. I don’t think these programs have any impact.”
The competition is part of Australia’s ‘Zero Chance’ campaign, which exports the message that “there is zero chance of illegal migration to Australia.” The Zero Chance website includes various online games that demonstrate the bleak consequences of boat journeys.
One game has an animated ‘fortune wheel’, where options include getting caught by border patrol, swindled by smugglers and barred from Australia for life. Only one option of 16 points to a successful landing in Australia, but no matter how many times you spin the wheel, this outcome remains elusive.
Other games include a pacman-style maze, navigating a boat through the sea or choosing a boat to travel by. All games end in failure to get to Australia, or worse. Centre director and principal solicitor at Refugee Advice and Casework Service in Sydney Sarah Dale remarks, “I’m shocked and disgusted that we would convert a person’s journey seeking safety into something as nonsense as the Pac-Man game.”
The federal government has spent over $4.1 million on ‘illegal maritime arrival education services’ between 2011-2021.
In 2019, the Department of Home Affairs came under fire for publishing false ‘horoscopes’ in Sri Lanka to discourage asylum seeking by boat. In 2017, they paid PR company Statt Consulting over $15 million in taxpayer-funded ads to dissuade Afghan and Pakistani asylum seekers.
Costs of keeping refugees in seemingly endless detention once they do reach Australian shores are similarly high. Human Rights Watch recently reported the average asylum seeker in Australia is kept in detention for 689 days. It’s the longest period on record; more than 12 times longer than America.
8 refugees have spent over 10 years in detention in Australia, 117 over 5.
Asylum seeking is not illegal. It’s a human right under international law. The abysmal actions of the government in Sri Lanka are especially ironic as Australia reopens its borders to tourists. Those borders will remain shut for refugees.
And now, potential asylum seekers are being encouraged to create free propaganda for the Australian government overseas. Just when you thought our immigration policies couldn’t sink any lower.
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