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.”

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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.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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