July 19th, 2013 marked the day on which Australia was recognised as one of the strictest countries for asylum seekers worldwide. From this date onwards, refugees travelling by boat were forbidden from seeking refuge on Australian soil. Refugees stopped in Australian waters were immediately placed in detention centres on the remote islands of Manus (Papua New Guinea) and the Republic of Nauru. The living conditions there were simply inhuman. They were packed into tents or iron sheet huts in suffocating temperatures without any hygienic care, insufficient and often squalid toilets, lack of clean drinking water, and depraved of privacy. In Nauru alone, some 2,000 refugees were locked up for an unknown period of time without any possibility of defence or hope of improved conditions.
No journalists or filmmakers were allowed to enter the detention centres. Cameras were forbidden. So, Academy Award-winner Eva Orner had to base her U.S.-Australian co-produced documentary Chasing Asylum on footage recorded in secrecy in the camps, filmed quickly and highly fragmented. The faces of the witnesses, refugees as well as employees in the camps, are often hidden for their own protection. They all speak of refugees’ rife self-harming, from self-inflicted lacerations to suicide attempts through poison and hanging.
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