Australia’s Refugee Policy is a great worry for many people. Refugees and asylum seekers have been used as a political football by both major parties. Since 1992, when mandatory detention was introduced, successive governments have toughened up on border protection. Boat people in particular have been singled out for harsh treatment. Our current Government cloaks the whole issue in an atmosphere of fear and secrecy, fuelled by misconceptions and lies. As a result, many refugee support organisations, including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, have taken Australia to task for its inhumane treatment of asylum seekers.
REFUGE is an immersion into the haunting reality lived by those who are suffering at the hand of a flawed and cruel system. While the issue is blurred in the media, REFUGE aims to debunk the myths, undo the demonisation, and does so in a clear and often humorous way, despite of its serious and complex subject matter. By raising awareness, REFUGE allows us to feel, be moved, and take action. To stand up for human rights. To this end, we enact true stories, based on facts and eyewitness reports, including the perspective of the victims.
The play has four story lines. These separate strands are woven together to create a tapestry showing the bigger picture:
1) Palm Sunday Rally. The president of the Refugee Council of Australia addresses a crowd of concerned citizens in Sydney’s Hyde Park. His speeches form the glue to our canvas. He puts forward the facts and paints a global map, connecting us with the issues at hand.
2) Children in Detention. Here we witness the plight of a Sri Lankan refugee family going into their fifth year of indefinite detention, in Villawood Detention Centre.
3) Stateless Persons. In which we tell the story of detainee Phillip Hassan, better known as the ‘Frequent Flier’, who was flown around the world many a time until his ancestral country accepted him back as one of its own. The story shows how someone gets caught in the traps and inadequacies of bureaucracy.
4) Boat People & Off Shore Detention. The current Government’s policy is to turn back boats before they arrive. This has sent countless refugees back to danger, even to death by drowning. Those who do manage to arrive here are transported for processing to off-shore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. They have no chance of resettlement in Australia. Asylum seeking men, women and children are languishing away in those centres. Doctors, nurses and other staff are gagged by a new law that forbids them to report on acts of abuse and the conditions in the camps.
Australia has signed and ratified the UN Conventions on Refugees, Stateless Persons and the Rights of the Child. Are the current refugee policies implementing what they should be, legally and morally, or are they falling short of our obligations? Who is illegal: the asylum seekers or the Australian policy makers? How and why does someone become a refugee? What rights do refugees have? What kind of circumstances does an asylum seeker have to cope with? Do we, who are blessed with freedom and wealth, have a moral responsibility to act? These are some of the questions REFUGE poses as we investigate the stories.
REFUGE is based on extensive fieldwork, particularly in the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney, and with the Somalian community, and on in-depth studies of the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia such as the “Deported to Danger” report by the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice & Community Education. It includes many insights gained from our engagement with diverse Refugee Action groups, such as End Child Detention Australia (a campaign initiated by Catholic Mission).
REFUGE is relevant to the following curriculum areas: Society & Culture, Drama, and Social Justice / Religious Education.
Our cast of 7 actors is augmented by audience volunteers, who are briefed before the show. They take on a range of small parts: Detainees and staff at a Detention Centre, students at a Primary School, Boat People, Asylum seekers in Nauru. This involves a little text and/or a simple action, in scenes together with our actors. An excellent opportunity for drama students! This active participation is highly engaging and educational and has an immediate, positive effect on the audience: the story becomes theirs.
· Suitable for High School students year 7-12.
· Duration is 75 minutes. Add 5 minutes either side for audience entry and exit.
· The play is performed in the round. We will need an open space hall, gym, or drama room.
· 12 volunteers are instructed by our cast to take on small parts. Briefing is done 30 minutes prior to the start of the show.
· Teacher’s notes with extensive background info are available.
· Costs are $8 p.p. This is negotiable where there is disadvantage.
· Audience size: maximum 150 students per performance, depending on the venue.
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