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Freedom Stories: Refugee Week Film Review

Screened as a part of Refugee Week 2016, Freedom Stories tells of the journeys, struggles, and achievements of former ‘boat people’ who arrived in Australian waters seeking asylum around 2001.

This was the year in which the Norwegian freighter, Tampa, arrived in Australian waters with 428 refugees, and marked a turning point in the politicisation of asylum seekers’ entry to Australia. 

Directed by Steve Thomas, Freedom Stories shows the real lives of people who escaped atrocities and persecution, suffered the significant impacts of mandatory detention, and who in different ways have successfully adapted to life in Australia.  These stories successfully underline the fact that there is no such thing as a ‘universal’ refugee experience.

At the screening, Thomas said he did not set out to make a ‘political’ film.

“I simply wanted to introduce former asylum seekers to audiences that may never have met a ‘boat person’, because my experience was completely counter to the negative labelling and scapegoating that dominates the ‘refugee debate’.”

“My starting point for filming was ‘what are these people are doing now’,” said Thomas in his director’s statement.

“But as I got to know them, it became apparent that in one way or another most remain deeply affected by their experiences of the double ‘limbo’ of detention and TPVs (Temporary Protection Visas).” 

The film’s spirit aptly reflects the Refugee Week theme this year: “With courage let us all combine”.

One of the stories shows Hamid Shoari, who still remembers witnessing people harming themselves at detention centres, and who later joined the Australian Defence Force.

“Nothing is for free,” says one of the other characters in the film, Fayazi, who now works as a construction manager. “I’ve paid a very high price for everything I’ve gained today.”

The film jumps between the different stories, showing new developments and occurrences in their career and family. There is no clear resolution at the end, as it shows their lives are still in progress, just like us.

The film’s spirit aptly reflects the Refugee Week theme this year: “With courage let us all combine”. 

It paints a broader picture of refugees’ resilience and courage in facing adversity and taking action against injustice.

Amir Javan, a North Sydney-based real estate agent and a former refugee who was featured in the film, spoke at the event. He said he regretted the current state of debate around asylum seekers.

“We never learn from history,” said Amir. He criticised the rhetoric used in discussing asylum seekers. “Unfortunately, this language is continuously going on and on, and we should get together and stop it.”

“There are a lot of emotions around this (issue),” said Sahar Okhovat, Policy Officer at Refugee Council of Australia, who attended the event. “It’s unfortunately a political issue – (it) shouldn’t be; it should be a humanitarian issue.”

Freedom Stories screened at Lakemba Senior Citizens Centre on June 21, during Refugee Week, as partnership between the City of Canterbury-Bankstown and the Refugee Council of Australia.

The Point

Screened as a part of Refugee Week 2016, Freedom Stories tells of the journeys, struggles, and achievements of former ‘boat people’

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