Guest Blogger – Barry Gamba
Our guest blogger series continues with a fantastic post on storytelling as a human rights tool by filmmaker Barry Gamba.
Just Imagine: you’re a child growing up in a country where war and civil unrest have existed for as long as you can remember. Your choices are limited; risk being recruited into the fighting or die in the day to day struggle to survive. Your family, like most of your neighbours, has been touched by tragedy more than once. Brothers, fathers, sisters, mothers, cousins, killed in the conflict, targeted directly or dying from disease and starvation. So your family scrape together what resources they can to send you away, not knowing if they’ll ever see you again, believing that there is safety somewhere in the outside world. You start off on a long, dangerous journey by yourself, across land and sea, and end up in a first world country like Australia hoping to find refuge.
Australia is not so keen on being a refuge for those who cross the seas these days. No open arms to welcome those who have escaped the brutality of war and displacement, no boundless plains to share. You’re placed in detention as a deterrent to others even thinking of claiming asylum by this route. But you’re one of the lucky ones and after a year in various detention centres, both offshore and onshore, before you go completely mad with despair, you’re granted a permanent protection visa.
So here you are, alone, with no family in a country that doesn’t know what to do with you. You hardly speak the language. Here in the lucky country you’re shunted from one temporary accommodation to another. You’re housed in crisis youth accommodation where the other residents, locals, are dealing with a range of mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems, escaping histories of domestic and family violence. It’s hard to sleep at night listening to the sounds of wailing, crying, people in intense pain.
So you take off on your own again, living on the streets, fending for yourself. Like the search for a safe haven has never ended.
The official classification used by the authorities to describe young refugees who arrive like this is ‘Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors’. A ‘UHM’ is under the age of 18 and arrived in Australia without a parent or an adult family member. Most UHMs in Australia are male, between the ages of 17 and 18, from countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka. Current statistics estimate there are 865 UHMs in Australia. 90% arrived by boat.
UHMs are 10 times more likely to become homeless than an Australian born young person.
Like a lot of people, I had no idea of the struggles that young refugees face even after going through a tough process to find refuge in the first place. Like a lot of people in Australia, I thought the fight for the rights of refugees was focused on making Australia live up to its obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, to impartially and efficiently access claims for asylum instead of locking refugees away in detention for prolonged periods, or more recently, towing the refugee boats back out of Australian waters before they can even make a claim. It’s sobering to discover that the fight for human rights continues even after settlement in a host country.
In 2013, I worked with a group of young refugees- or as they are often referred UHMs – in Sydney, Australia, and other brave stakeholders to develop a fictional film narrative, drawing on the real experiences of UHMs and homeless youth in Australia.
The logistics of producing a feature documentary on the issue were not within reach of this project. We didn’t have the resources to film overseas in some of the countries of origin, to trace a journey firsthand. But more significantly, laying bare the details of young refugees’ real stories could re-traumatise the very people we were trying to empower. Instead, devising a fictional story, drawing on the lived experiences of the participants was cathartic. You could safely remove yourself from the story as well as identifying with it at the same time.
BROKEN TIME is an 18-minute drama we developed together to provide an audience with an opportunity to imagine this experience, to see the world through someone else’s eyes, walk in someone else’s shoes.
In BROKEN TIME, our protagonist meets a local homeless young woman and they share their stories. The young woman has escaped domestic violence and has no desire to ever see her family again. Our hero comes from a situation of political violence, and he says, he would do anything to see his family again.
Sharing stories across unimaginable divides is the first step in challenging our assumptions. Sharing the story, a first step in sharing our humanity.
Director, BROKEN TIME (2014)