Openness & Honesty – Asylum Seekers & Refugee Project Experiences

This semester, the third year journalism students at the University of Canberra have been part of a project called “Reporting Refugees“. This project has seen the UC students collaborate with local organisations like Canberra Refugee Support and Companion House to report asylum seekers/refugee stories in the Canberra region.

As a third year journalism student I took part in this project. Going in to the project I knew little about asylum seekers/refugees. But as the project progressed I learned a lot about what it means to be an asylum seeker/refugee and what challenges they face. I have grown to respect these people. Most of them have experienced some terrifying things back in their home country. When you hear their stories it’s like a movie to us in the Western world. Their stories seem so unreal. Too dreadful to be real.

The project has made me think more about the needs of refugees and asylum seekers, and how we treat them when they come to our country. We should treat them with respect and not let them rot in detention centres. We need to process their applications faster and take responsibility. Sending these people to East Timor is not taking responsibility in my eyes.

When reporting on asylum seekers/refugees you, as a journalist, need to think about what consequences your story might have for your sources and their families. Being portrayed in the media might be highly dangerous for these people and their families. So it’s really important that you tell them about these risks because they might not think about it themselves.

PRIOR PERSPECTIVES
Prior to commencing work on this project I had never thought about if I have had any contact with asylum seekers or refugees. I may have had contact with such a person without knowing about it. However, when we started this project I didn’t even know the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee.

My attitude towards asylum seekers/refugees was that every human being is worth the same. If someone is forced to leave their country, or they are in danger, they should be able to get help. In my eyes Australia has an obligation to help these people. Asylum seekers and refugees have rights like every other human being.

Australia has obligations to protect the human rights of all asylum seekers and refugees who arrive in Australia, regardless of how or where they arrive and whether they arrive with or without a visa (Australian Human Rights Commission 2011).

I understand that Australia cannot help all the refugees and asylum seekers in the world. But it is important to me that the once arriving in Australia, they have the right to be treated as human beings. Lately, there have been quite a few riots among asylum seekers at different detention centres in Australia. These happenings make me wonder if these people are treated right. We cannot just treat them as another problem, which we can push onto an island (Christmas Island) and it’s gone. It doesn’t work that way.

ON ASSIGNMENT FOR #REPORTINGREFUGEES

During this project I have learned what the difference is between an asylum seeker and a refugee.

The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (and its 1967 Protocol), to which Australia is a signatory, defines a refugee as:

Any person who owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.

An asylum seeker is a person who is seeking protection as a refugee and is still waiting to have his/her claim assessed (Refugee council of Australia 2011).

In my opinion some refugees are very open and happy to talk about their past, while others just “shut the door” and don’t want to talk about their past. Humans deal with things differently. Some like to talk about their experiences although they might have been terrible, while others want to keep their story to themselves.

In Canberra there are a few very friendly and open Sudanese refugees. I feel blessed that we found the Dinka congregation at the St. George’s Anglican Church in Pearce. These people were happy to talk to us about their congregation and community. Some of them even told us about their life back in Sudan and how they came to Australia. They were a lovely community and I’m sure I’ll go back and visit them in the future.

The project has strengthened my views about how asylum seekers and refugees should be treated. Knowing a few refugees, this is not just a word to me anymore. When I hear the word REFUGEE mentioned, I think about the people I talked to during this project and I can see their faces.

If all Australians had the chance to sit down and talk to an asylum seeker or a refugee, I think that would change a lot of Aussies’ opinions on asylum seeker/refugee issues. They would see that most of these people want to learn English and contribute to the Australian society. They are not in Australia to go on unemployment benefits. They are here because they are not safe in their own country.

This project has made me think about what the Australian Government does in relation to asylum seekers/refugees, and the policies in place. I don’t believe that the Australian Government’s plan to establish a processing centre for asylum seekers in East Timor is a good idea. To be honest, I feel like the government is trying to disclaim responsibility for the situation, instead of seeking real regional solutions to the problem.

“If the Government is serious about stopping the movements of asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat, it must put significant thought, effort and investment into developing a refugee protection framework across the Asia Pacific region, rather than seeking to outsource its commitments and warehouse asylum seekers in East Timor,” said Dr Graham Thom, Refugee Coordinator for Amnesty International Australia (Amnesty International 2011).

LESSONS FROM THE FIELD

The project has taught me, when reporting asylum seeker/refugee issues you have to think about what the consequences might be for the people you talk to. These people do not always think about how dangerous it can be for them to talk to the media. Sometimes it is your job as a journalist, to remind them of the risk involved. Although, the people you speak to are in a safe country at the time of the interview, their family back in their home country may be in danger.

People fleeing persecution leave families behind who may face retribution from repressive regimes if relatives in the UK [ or other countries] are identified (Media Wise 2008).

This might be scary to think about as a journalist. But it is important that you do think about it because of the severe consequences your actions might have for other people. When I was out in the field during this project, I always asked my talents if it was safe for them to talk to me. I didn’t push anyone to talk to me. The people I spoke to were happy to talk to me about their life here in Australia and some also talked about their life back in Sudan.

However, one of my talents was happy to talk to me at the time of the interview, and he signed a consent form. But a few weeks later he contacted me and said that he didn’t want to be in a video that was going to be published on the ABC website. Apparently, he had talked to his mother who found it scary, and didn’t like the idea of him being in a video. So it was a challenge for me and my partner how to handle this. We had already finalized the video at that stage and sent it off to the ABC.

Next time I’m assigned an asylum seeker/refugee story I will have better knowledge how to report on asylum seeker/refugee issues. For an Australian journalist it’s good to try to follow the MEAA Code of Ethics, which says that a journalist should commit himself/herself to:

  • honesty
  • fairness
  • independence
  • respect for the rights of others

In addition to the Code of Ethics, you ought to follow the advice in Media Wise’s Reporting Asylum and Refugee Issues.  Here you can find guidelines and tips for how to report on these kinds of issues.

There is a lot to think about when reporting on asylum seekers/refugees, but as long as you are open and honest with them you can get some very interesting stories.

In my experience you have to think about what you write and who you are speaking with. It is always nice to have a good story, but some stories are too good to be true.

Sources:

Amnesty International, Amnesty International: Australia’s refugee policy going backwards fast, viewed 04 November 2011, http://www.amnesty.org.au/news/comments/24815/

Australian Human Rights Commission, viewed 02 November 2011, http://www.hreoc.gov.au/human_rights/immigration/asylum_seekers.html

Media, Entertainment & Art Alliance, Code of Ethics, viewed 04 November 2011, http://www.alliance.org.au/code-of-ethics.html

Media Wise, Reporting Asylum and Refugee Issues, viewed 04 November 2011, http://www.mediawise.org.uk/www.mediawise.org.uk/files/uploaded/ReportingAsylumleaflet2008.pdf

Refugee council of Australia, Background Information on Refugees & Asylum Seekers, viewed 02 November 2011, http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/docs/news&events/RW_Background_Information.pdf

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2 Comments

Filed under Media, Reporting Refugees, Uni

2 responses to “Openness & Honesty – Asylum Seekers & Refugee Project Experiences

  1. Some excellent insights, Linn – particularly regarding your experience of the teenager who withdrew his permission to appear in your video. You’ve demonstrated ample capacity for critical reflection on professional practice. You also linked to some great resourcres – such as the mediawise suite. But you needed to also reference scholarly (i.e. academic publications) and this would have further strengthened your post.

  2. Pingback: University students use social media to report! « goldspringpr

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