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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.

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:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MP5vsTJvaE[/youtube]

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.

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21 comments

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

  1. Jack Smit

    Woomera – Baxter – Curtin – Christmas Island…

    No one knows where you are…

    No one can hear you…

    No one should go through this…

    No one can trust Australia’s Lib-Lab government… (or, don’t trust the r@t-f**kers for one minute)

  2. Rena Zurawel

    It gets better and better.
    Just wondering how much money has been spent on this ultra-sophisticated ‘project’.
    Is this very wavy message supposed to frighten the smugglers or asylum seekers? Or Immigration Department?
    Who actually is the addressee here?
    I think the project was designed to send a clear message to the Immigration Department: No one can hear you.
    Particularly if the video is going to be presented in the bombed caves of Afghanistan.
    Judging by the past records and ‘human errors’ in the Department, there is a possibility that some messages in… Sinhalese will be sent to those caves.

  3. willozap

    How is it wrong to try and dissuade people from inherently unsafe practices?

    I’m fully in favour of expanded humanitarian migration, and 100% against the demonisation of asylum seekers. But saying that the government shouldn’t warn people of the dangers of people traffickers – as Pamela Curr seems to be doing – is patently ridiculous and does a disservice to all those who want a more humanitarian approach to asylum seekers.

    I actually think this is a pretty good campaign, given growing penetration of the internet in pathway countries and the fact that 353 people from the SIEV X did, you know, drown.

    Is it more humanitarian to pretend that such a journey is safe?

  4. Lambikins

    who’s going to see this? and even if they do – most people are so desperate that they’ll take what they already know will be risky

  5. biv

    Yawn, this wont stop boats arriving. Waste of money really. Nothing wrong other than that though. However, assylum seekers are desperate and as mentioned above wont have access to youtube. If they did have access, they would still make the journey. Whoever wins the next election will be facing the same numbers of boat people and the same politics will result.

  6. channah45@gmail.com

    @Rena since the Immigration Department spokesman says the target audience is the refugees already living in Australia, the aim seems to be to traumatise further a group of already traumatised people, in the hope that they can be co-opted to spread the word overseas.

    @Willozap – Are safer alternatives really available? For example, where is the “information alerting diaspora communities to legitimate mechanisms for enabling family members to come to Australia” that is supposed to be “coupled with” this video horror? I can’t see any such information on the youtube channel.

    I’d also like to know which “agency” conducted the interviews that formed the basis of these videos. Were the interviewees aware of the purpose of the interviews, and did they give their informed consent for this research?

  7. willozap

    @Channah – Oh, I don’t doubt that there aren’t adequate safe modes of transport for asylum seekers (ie a political problem), or information about mythical modes of transport.

    But we have to ask: what advice should someone interested in the human welfare of asylum seekers give to a potential asylum seeker camped out in Indonesia? Is the best advice really to get on to these leaky boats? Remember, they aren’t sailing straight from Afghanistan.

  8. 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?

  9. Rena Zurawel

    Shark infested waters?

    WILLOZAP
    But we have to ask:
    Why there are not many refugees from Australia to Afghanistan? (waiting in Indonesia)

  10. Venise Alstergren

    RENA ZURAWEL: Umm… What’s your point. ❓