Wednesday, 20 June 2018 11:00





Australia, 2018, 94 minutes, Colour.

Julian Burnside.

Directed by Judy Rymer.

With the worldwide movements of peoples travelling the world, migrants, refugees, those fleeing from persecution, there has been both a greater consciousness about the plight of those searching for another home as well as a hardening of consciousness against these migrants and refugees, a self-protective attitude and politics from countries in Europe, the United States, and, though with far fewer numbers, Australia.

Prominent Australian lawyer, Julian Burnside, worked in commercial law until he was asked around the year 2000 to become involved in social justice cases. The experience of politicians claiming that migrants were throwing babies overboard from the ship Tampa, and this later proven to be false, led him to a new career in legal cases about border protection and border policies. In this documentary, he is at the centre, speaking to camera, his observations and challenges, visiting several countries around the world to examine their attitudes towards migrants and refugees, sympathetic welcome as well as harsh closing of borders, the construction of fences and walls.

In many ways, this film is preaching to the converted. It will reinforce the views and feelings of those who believe in advocacy for people in need, for empathy and compassion for those who suffer. Many will not find anything new in what Burnside is offering but rather an expansion of consciousness, widening of horizons, literally in his visits to other countries. Those who are not converted will probably have their stances reinforced, more sympathetic to those countries who put up the barriers, the president of Hungary, demonstrations in Poland, and the internment of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island.

Many audiences will be familiar with some of the countries and their reactions – although, it is very sobering to look at the extensive wall cutting off Mexico from the United States and some draconian legislation which separates parents who lived for a long time in the US and their deportation to Mexico, having minimal contact with their children, for short times with only the possibility of finger touching through the barriers. This certainly extends the consciousness about human hardheartedness.

By comparison, Burnside visits the Greek island of Levros, just across from Turkey, receiving thousands of Syrian refugees, and, on the whole, welcoming them, the contrast between three camps on the island, two in the midst of the people who go out of their way for the newcomers and one a wired compound, established by the Greek government, which confines the refugees.

Perhaps most challenging is Burnside’s visit to Jordan, the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have come across from Syria, the reaction of the King, the population, enabling the refugees to find homes, however temporary, amongst the Jordanian people, the possibility of work, of earning one’s keep, of some temporary peace before returning, it is hoped, to homes and properties in Syria.

What most of the attention is on the present, one of the features of the film is to highlight the millions of children around the world who are not getting the education that they need and deserve – and pondering what are the consequences for the coming years for them as adults without this basic education and how they will cope.

At the beginning of the film Burnside highlights the Golden Rule, asking people to think of how they would wish to be treated in the same situations as the refugees. And one of the words that recurs throughout the film is ‘decency’, the kind of human decency that should be exercised to people in need.

This kind of documentary is always sobering. It is an opportunity to reinforce more compassionate attitudes towards those in need and, even if it is unlikely, to challenge those who think they must take hard and harsh stances.