Review by Tim Lam
It has been three years since Go Back To Where You Came From last appeared on Australian television. Since then, the ‘Papua New Guinea solution’ was implemented, Operation Sovereign Borders commenced, the Border Force Act was passed, boats have been turned back and more asylum seekers have been killed on Manus Island than have been resettled.
Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is clearly a highly divisive and emotional issue. Season three of Go Back To Where You Came From saw six Australians with differing views retrace a refugee’s journey and in the process reflect on their own preconceptions of asylum seekers.
It is compelling, confronting and at times frustrating television that invites viewers to reflect on Australia’s response to the global refugee crisis. The heartbreaking stories of Rohingya people living in destitute camps with little hope of external aid, or refugees waiting more than 20 years to be resettled, highlights the devastating reality many refugees throughout the world face.
The controversial Kim, who runs a ‘Stop the Boats’ Facebook page and organises Reclaim Australia rallies, received plenty of backlash on social media for her outspoken views on Islam and multiculturalism. Listening to the thinly-disguised racist views of some of the participants can be frustrating for the viewer. The power of the bipartisan propaganda machine was also evident, with some participants espousing verbatim the same three word slogans used by this country’s political leaders.
The persistent myths and misconceptions dominating conversations about asylum seekers are difficult to dispel. It was therefore heartening to see several participants gradually become more understanding, compassionate and sympathetic towards the plight of asylum seekers.
Andrew, a primary school teacher who previously regarded asylum seekers as ‘country shoppers’, changed his perspective after meeting a family of refugees in Sydney. He acknowledged his initial refusal to recognise the human cost of the government’s treatment of asylum seekers. Perhaps our politicians need to demonstrate this same self-reflexivity and humility if we are to change the national dialogue on asylum seekers.
Jodi, who openly described her fear of foreigners at the start of the series, was profoundly affected by the stories of Rohingya refugees she met. Upon her return to Australia, she quit her job as a masseur and is now involved with Welcome to Australia to help newly-arrived refugees.
It is impossible for every Australian to retrace a refugee’s journey like the participants on the show. Many people who support tough policies on asylum seekers will not watch Go Back To Where You Came From. The challenge for refugee advocates is changing the perceptions of people who hold deeply-ingrained hostility towards asylum seekers.
I believe an important step in changing the national conversation on asylum seekers is identifying the root causes of why many ‘ordinary Australians’ support harsh and illegal ‘border protection’ policies.
As Archbishop Mark Coleridge said on Q&A last week, systematically cruel asylum seekers policies are being implemented by people who are not necessarily cruel at heart.
Some of the participants’ attitudes revealed broader issues of Islamophobia, multiculturalism and fear of ‘the other’. It is this fear which drives much of the paranoia and mistrust regarding refugees.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to overcoming this tidal wave of cynicism, negativity and anxiety.
Some people may stubbornly maintain a myopic vision of the world. They may employ selective compassion and feel genuine pain for one group of people but refuse to extend that compassion to people who arrive by boat.
However, other people, like Andrew, may have a change of heart once they meet refugees in the community and listen to their firsthand stories.
Or they might be like Jodi and gradually realise that refugees simply want a country to call home.
It is hard to overcome longstanding prejudices, but Go Back To Where You Come From shows it is possible to change hearts and minds. Sometimes it takes just a bit of empathy to open our eyes, and our hearts, to the suffering of others.
Go Back To Where You Came From is available on SBS On Demand.
Did you watch Go Back To Where You Came From? Share your views on the show in the comments below.