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Jun 11, 2010

Australia says no to people-smuggling -- via YouTube

The Government is running a new round of ads to try to deter asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat. But the target audience is local, not overseas.

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The Immigration Department has launched a new round of videos aimed at discouraging asylum seekers from trying to reach Australia by boat, setting up a Youtube channel devoted to explaining the horrors of the boat journey to Australia.

The campaign, “No To People Smuggling” has had no mainstream domestic exposure so far. It aims:

“…to raise awareness and educate communities within Australia about the dangers and uncertainties of using people smugglers. Watch and hear first-hand accounts taken from those who have risked their lives and those of their families to undertake the treacherous journey to Australia. The stories detail the grave dangers faced on the open ocean in small and often unseaworthy boats, with no guarantee of reaching Australia or being granted asylum.”

The YouTube channel consists of three videos in Tamil, Sinhalese, Pashto, Farsi, Dari and Arabic. One explains the suspension of processing of claims from Sri Lankans and Afghan applicants and the Government’s “crackdown on people smuggling” and those who support people smuggling. Another conveys “Ali’s story”, in which an actor playing an asylum seeker explains how his sister and daughter were drowned in an attempt to reach Australia. The third, and most graphic, simulates the point of view of someone drowning at sea:


This morning, comments from Youtube users critical of that video were removed and comments set to Moderated.

In 2000, the Howard Government under then-Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock launched an ad campaign in the Middle East warning of the perils of the boat journey to Australia, detention and, famously, the spiders, snakes and crocodiles that awaited any asylum seekers arriving in outback Australia. One of the consequences, Immigration officials later learnt, was that emphasising the presence of sharks made people smuggling more appealing for Indonesian fishermen, who like to catch shark.

However, the Department of Immigration — which no longer runs in-country advertising campaigns (that is now the responsibility of Customs) — says the ads are aimed not at potential asylum seekers overseas but at local communities that can act to discourage them from attempting to reach Australia by boat.

Immigration’s Sandi Logan said the campaign had been developed since late last year and was based on research conducted by an agency that had interviewed Sri Lankan, Afghan, Iranian and Iraqi diaspora community members, to identify what were the most powerful motivations driving people to attempt to reach Australia by boat. “We found that the threat of law enforcement, of imprisonment, is nothing to these people, given what they’ve been through. However, the risk of dying, of losing family members, or of losing your money or being deceived by people smugglers, is much more real.”

“This is not an ad campaign,” Logan said. “It’s an information plan targeted at a very specific audience. It’s composed of posters, brochures, and the videos. All have been produced in-house, except for the translations. The total cost so far, including the translation services, is around $75,000. Left Behind cost $2642 in total.”

“We’ve also been putting public notices in the ethnic media flagging the recent changes to laws relating to people smuggling, and the suspension of Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seeker claims,” says Logan. “We started developing the campaign last year when we saw that people smugglers were taking much greater risks and exposing more people to danger in rickety boats.”

Further videos would be produced targeting the risk of losing your money to asylum seekers or being abandoned by them, Logan said. However, the campaign would also be coupled with information alerting diaspora communities to legitimate mechanisms for enabling family members to come to Australia, rather than risking the journey by boat.

Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne criticised the videos, and particularly the drowning ad, reminiscent of graphic domestic advertising campaigns such as road safety. “The point is that these people don’t have a choice about coming here by boat. You have a choice about driving drunk, for example. These people don’t have any choice if they’ve fled the Taliban and Australia is the only country that will take them.”

Update: This article originally quoted Sandi Logan as saying the videos were part of an “information campaign”.  This was a misquote: he stated that it was part of an “information plan.”  The text above has been amended.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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21 thoughts on “Australia says no to people-smuggling — via YouTube

  1. Venise Alstergren

    WILLOWZAP: For once, I find myself on the other side of the fence.

    I tend to agree with you.

    Even if the ads cost a bomb.

    Even if they only get through to a limited audience. It could be worth it.

    CHANNAH45@GMAIL.COM: Granted, these people will have to endure a little bit more trauma.

    Could it not be worth it? If word of mouth between relos and friends can help deter the loss of lives, surely this is a more humane action than the one as practised by Philip Ruddock?

  2. Liz45

    @WILLOWZAP – If Australia kept its military and war mongering out of countries like Iraq & Afghanistan, and stopped its support for Burma and Sri Lanka via heaps of money and weapons, there mightn’t be as many fleeing for their lives- we even have joint military operations with them for goodness sake? How moral is that?

    We(via Howard) invaded 2 countries on a lie – we created the terrorists in both those countries. In Iraq, we helped kill 1.3 million people, and who knows how many in Afghanistan – then, when the people escape for their lives, we slam them in detention centres more punitive than being jailed for crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and rape! There are over 400 kids in detention now! One is a 2 month old baby – shameful!

    These people are living life on a daily basis with fear and pure luck – many of their family members have either been murdered by one means or another; have ‘disappeared’ (read detained and probably tortured – including young boys over 5′ tall?) and this govt is trying to deter them from an “unsafe” journey?

    Why are we there? In Iraq because of the oil, and in Afghanistan because of oil and gas in the Caspian Sea(estimated to be worth $16 trillion) and the West wants to build a pipeline via Afghanistan, so they can avoid Iran and any other nasty little country that might oppose them – they can also loosen their dependance on Saudi Arabia as well. Of course, there’s other resources in Afghanistan that they’d like to steal as well!

    Less than 4% of asylum seekers arrive by boat – at least 96% come by plane, and when their visas run out, or they apply for asylum, they’re treated more humanely than those who arrive by boat! It’s appalling!

    IF I was living in these countries, particularly if I had children, I’d take the risk too – to save my childrens’ lives. Those occupying these countries don’t give a damn about the citizens – there’s enough evidence to support this statement on the Internet. Where should the 4 million homeless people in Iraq go? To Iran? They’re in danger of being imprisoned or kicked out of there. 2 million of them are homeless in Iraq! We don’t even recognise their plight. It’s a disgrace!

  3. Pamela

    Well one thing is for sure no one in Afghanistan will see it. Internet cafes charge 150 Afghanis for one head and shoulders photo on a dvd- not printed.
    This is 15% of an Afghan average weekly wage for someone lucky enough to have work. No homebased computers so this DVD unlikely to be seen in Afghanistan.

    Maybe in Indonesia but since all Afghan asylum seekers who are picked up are locked up in Indonesian Immigrasi prisons even if they have been assessed by UNHCR as refugees and given a UN Refugee card- this does not seem like a real choice.

    Fact is now many people are locked up for months- some 13 months in detention living on an allowance of two meals per day of rice and curry slops deliverd in plastic bags -no utensils or plates- by IOM (international organisation of Migration).

    Australia ( well you really- your taxes) pays this organisation 13 million per year. IOM spends 23,000 Indo Rupiah or A$2.92 per day per person on food.
    People are detained in cells- I saw 15 people in a cell 4×4 metres- no furniture, no beds. In this space 24 hours per day eating, sleeping, washing, toiletting, worrying.

    We know the boats are dangerous but how will we stop people getting on them when the choice is this existence in Indonesia. Added to this is the GREAT PULL FACTOR created by the opposition continually carping in the media about how they are going to push the boats back etc. People are saying we have to come now before Australia locks the door- this is the greatest pull factor scaring people into boarding the boats. A real winner for Abbott they more the opposition squeal the more will come.
    There is an alternative which involves providing a formal application mechanism in Pakistan and indonesia for Afghans and alternative for Tamils but who would the red necks whinge about if we really stopped the boats.

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