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Documentary Explores Conditions at Australian Detention Camps


Asylum-seekers look through a fence at the Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea, March 21, 2014.

Asylum-seekers look through a fence at the Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea, March 21, 2014.

A documentary film about Australia’s asylum policy opened in Melbourne last Thursday. “Chasing Asylum” explores the tragedy found at detention centers that Australia operates on islands in the South Pacific Ocean.

The media is barred from the camps on the island nation of Nauru and on Manus in Papua New Guinea. But filmmaker Eva Orner said she wanted to find a way to tell the truth about them.

Detention Camp Sites on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea

Detention Camp Sites on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea

“It has been said that we are committing torture, that we are breaking all of our obligations under the Refugee Convention, and yet it continues,” Orner said. “So I set about to show audiences what it looks like and what their taxpayer dollar is paying for.”

The movie includes secretly recorded footage from inside the centers. It documents the stories of some detainees.

Orner described the conditions at the centers as horrific.

“We are the only country in the world to detain children indefinitely. Women, men, children are there. Women and children have been sexually abused. Two men have died - actually, three men have died.”

On May first, a 21-year-old Somali refugee was severely injured when she set herself on fire at the center on Nauru.

Orner described making “Chasing Asylum” as one of the hardest projects of her life. But she said it is important the world knows how Australia is treating detainees in the centers. Orner said she hopes her film will push Australians to demand an end to the camps.

Officials from Australia have defended the camps. They say the camps are deterrents to migrants. They say they also save lives because they stop refugees from risky ocean travel.

Last month, Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court declared the detention center at Manus Island unconstitutional and illegal. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said it will close.

I’m John Russell.

Phil Mercer wrote this story for VOA News. Jim Dresbach adapted this story for Learning English and VOANews.com. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

documentaryn. a movie or television program that tells the facts about actual people and events

obligationn. something that you must do because of a law, rule or promise

footage n. scenes or action recorded on film or video

audiencen. the people who attend a performance

indefiniteadj. not certain in amount or length

deterrentn. something that makes someone decide not to do something

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