This semester I participated in the University of Canberra’s ‘Reporting Refugees’ program that was run in collaboration with ABC Canberra and the ANU School of Music. The idea was to tell you, the public, the compelling stories of people who have fled their countries to come to Canberra, Australia and start a new life.
At first I found this task daunting, as I had no real close contact with refugees before. I was lucky enough to come across Yussuf Mohamed whilst working at Capital Football. This young man was to be our subject but it was not as easy as one, two, three.
Yussuf was a great talent and someone who I have become friends with outside of this project. The process of putting this story together was not as easy as getting to know this Kenyan refugee. To give you a little background, Yussuf was born in Kenya and came via plane to Australia with his sister and her husband in 2005. Since arriving he has learnt english, finished school and has represented Australia in football.
Due to Yussuf being associated with Street Soccer we had to go through the Big Issue. It was not easy at first because the Big Issue were not going to allow us to interview him or his ACT Street Soccer coach, Tim Skinner but after numerous emails and a few phone calls the Big Issue had no problem as they discovered it would be aired on ABC. Despite that it was lucky for us as one of our classmates knew Yussuf personally. We then met up with Yussuf to discuss what the project was about and he gave us the heads up.
Our original idea was to make a television news story but due to Yussuf not wanting to be infront of the camera we settled for radio.
The interview with Yussuf was very informative. He gave Simon and I a sneak peak into the life of a refugee and how he managed to come here to Australia. It makes us realise that we have gone through nothing compared to these thousands of refugees that want to make Australia home.
After our interview with Yussuf we went down to the ACT Street Soccer training where about twenty others were having a run around enjoying the sun. This gave us the chance to chat with Tim Skinner. He was fantastic, he really opened my eyes to all the different types of people not only who come to street soccer but just other initiatives run by the local councils, churches, places such as the Red Cross, Companion House and Multicultural Youth Services. Skinner has known Yussuf since he first came to Australia and was very insightful into his life in Australia, and how he has matured and gained confidence in the six years since arriving.
The most incredible part of Yussuf’s story was how he handled himself as a young 16-year-old after his sister and her husband moved straight down to Melbourne. It left him to fend for himself. This did not affect Yussuf as he became involved in Belconnen Youth Centre and Street Soccer where they became his family away from home. It showed how little programs such as that can help someone so significantly.
What I thought
In my mind the first real experience with refugees I can remember was after September 2001. I joined the negative bandwagon but after learning more and more I have discovered that they are no different to you and I. At a young age you are oblivious to that and the media shapes your perspective. At the time Howard was in charge and denied Tampa the Norwegian freighter into Australia because it had 438 asylum seekers onboard. The Government had many arguments in the news that “reinforced their reasons for not allowing the Tampa entry to Australian waters, including the protection of Australia’s sovereignty; that these individuals were likely to be illegal immigrants – and potentially terrorists; that they were seeking to exploit Australia’s laws relating to asylum seekers; and that the detention centres were already full” (McKay et al. 2011).
Media Watch (2009) showed how one news network can create a domino effect whether the facts be correct or not. In this case Channel Nine made up facts and figures surrounding how many refugees and asylum seekers were on Centrelink benefits, but as Media Watch do, they proved that those facts and figures could not be true due to the lack of information given by Centrelink. Assumptions like this change peoples idea of refugees and asylum seekers and continues that negative approach. During 2001 the majority of asylum seekers coming into Australia were from Afganistan, Iraq and Iran therefore portraying to the general public as terrorists or the enemy (McMaster 2001).
This negative image was not just because of the media, Kolcker and Dunn (2003) discovered that just over 90-per-cent of documents dealing with asylum seekers released by the government were negative with an astounding five documents being either neutral or positive.
Many believe that the reason why refugees are not welcomed is because they do not seem to of settled into the Australian way of life. People see the mass migrant areas as ‘no go zones’, places where there is plenty of youth violence and ethnic tension (Jacobs 2011). I believe that this image has been changing and so has mine through this project. In the ACT 783 asylum seekers have made Canberra home since 2005. What surprised me was how many have arrived by boat, not that many seeing that is all the media coverage. In 2008 out of the 4750 asylum seekers that landed in Australia all but 206 came in by air (Farr, 2009).
The fact that it takes up to ten years plus to gain visas you realise that we are harsh in the way we treat refugees and asylum seekers straight out off the boat, or off the plane. They are being placed in mandatory detention whilst their visa is being assessed. For these refugees to be enclosed in one space for a number of years, it is no surprise that there are cries for the system to be changed.
I came to realise that this project was not to just tell the stories of these fantastic people but to get some much needed positive media coverage about people who are just like you and me. ‘Go back to where you came from‘ the SBS mini-series which took six Australians in the reverse situation as they became boat people and discovered what it was like in Iraq and Kenya as refugees. This was one of the first times we got to experience through our television screens what it might have been like for the people we were interviewing. Once settled in a new country, refugees live normal lives, have normal jobs and have plenty of friends as I discovered through Yussuf.
I believe that this project has opened the eyes of everyone who participated. As journalists it made us connect to our subjects emotionally and through that emotion we were able to create meaningful and insightful stories. These stories that we all worked on this semester takes away from the stereotypes we know and has hopefully opened up a whole new group of Australians eyes.
To see the final piece and download the story visit the ABC Canberra website now.
ABC. (2009, October 26). Media Watch: Welfare and Refugees. Retrieved November 18, 2011, from ABC: http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s2724620.htm
Farr, M. (2009, April 16). Border security is all at sea. Retrieved November 22, 2011, from The Telegraph: http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/malcolmfarr/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/border_security_is_all_at_sea
Jacobs, K. (2011). Experience and representation: contemporary perspectives on migration in Australia. Surrey: Ashgate Publsihing.
McKay, F. (2011). ‘Any one of these boat people could be a terrorist for all we know!’ Media representations and public perceptions of ‘boat people’ arrivals in Australia.Journalism , Volume 12, Issue 5. Retrieved 19 November, 2011, from http://jou.sagepub.com.ezproxy1.canberra.edu.au/content/12/5/607.full.pdf+html
McMaster, D. (2001). Asylum Seekers: Australia’s response to refugees. Melbourne: Melbourne University Publish.