Asylum “Two” – Who is the asylum seeker? (Theatre Review)

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Asylum “Two”

The Old 505 Theatre

All images credited to Robert Catto.

All artists involved will waive their fees so that ticket sales can be donated, in full, to the Asylum Seekers Centre in Newtown & the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (asrc) in Melbourne.

Note: If you can’t buy tickets here (these shows are selling fast) donations can be made to either of the two centres by clicking the names above.

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The confrontation with the Other (our neighbour or those that we love)  is always a confrontation with ourselves, for how can we ever truly know another human being? Even those we love all our life have the ability and right to transform into something we never imagined they could be, and in almost every human relationship, do so before our eyes at some point. We can never fully know another human, but we can project a relationship bubble around our definition of the Other we know and love that alleviates the discomfort the Other can cause inside us. This is why a horror movie like The Shining wields so much power. There is nothing more terrifying than a father acting against the nature and impulse we assume, turning in a violent way against that expectation, and justifying our deep suspicious concern that the Other will turn on us at any moment. The further a person is from us in distance, practise or culture, the more anxiety we feel about their unpredictable differences. 

We tell ourselves their ‘story’ will connect us with them, and alleviate that fear.

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And yet, their stories do not relieve that concern. While I might be fascinated and astonished at lives as others live them, it is not knowing more about them that recognises them as just the same. In fact, it is not necessary for me to know the women in Afghanistan at all for me to know that when they are killed for secretly teaching young girls to read they should be protected. It is the purest of ethical acts to save simply because a person needs to be saved, rather than moralising, rationalising and justifying to myself why I am making a move to provide a safe place them.

The value of the ‘story’ is not to face the Other, rather it is to better understand ourselves.

There is not a human creature in Australia that would genuinely try to argue that it is a good thing to kill people who  teach young girls. There is no moral ambiguity here, nothing that a story of one particular woman will do to alleviate that absolute knowing I have that I ought to provide asylum for those individuals.

Yet, as the current stories in Asylum “Two” tell us, these are the people we as a nation are refusing. The question must be asked, who do we think asylum seekers are? Are they the lazy child at the back of the class seeking a short cut to something for nothing? Alylum Two tells us the answer is no – that child is busy back in their country, playing it safe and offering themselves to anyone who will give them the least to do. They are not risking all to get their children out in the dark of the night to leave their country illegally because to attempt immigration will get them killed. Asylum seekers are the desperate people who have had to resort to anything available to get out of the country that now hates them. Would we have sent Jews riding on the backs of carts, buried under rubbish back to the concentration camp because they escaped rather than go through the proper channels? Of course not, the accusation is ludicrous. And yet, this is precisely what we are doing when we try to send a woman who risks her life to educate girls, and has her name listed for persecution back to the country from which she fled.

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Asylum “Two” offers us six different plays that speak around our perception of who the asylum seeker is, and who we are when we reject them. Two plays in particular, Elias Jamieson Brown’s Missy and her Master (performed by Camilla Ah Kin and Tom Conroy) and Mary Rachel Brown’s Self-Service (Performed by Jan Barr) examine the everyday monsters we become when we don’t take the time to self examine but rather use ideologies to defend our feelings. The short plays Meena by Noëlle Janaczewska (performed by Suz Mawer) and Bread and Butter by Melita Rowston (Performed by Josipa Draisma) focus on two women. One is waiting for her child who is an asylum-seeker, worrying and wondering if all the work she did carrying her child and raising her child was simply to see them become a number in a list. The other is a woman who learnt numbers and letters at her daily bread making activities at home, who seeks asylum after the Taliban declared her an outlaw deserving death.

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I could be You, written by Hoa Pham (performed by Kirsty Kiloh, Joanna Jaaniste, Alice Keohavong, Barton Williams and Zohab Khan) is an exploratory piece that examines different people united by their common experience of living in detention centres, including a ghost of a woman who haunts the Maribrynong Detention Centre wailing that she wants to be taken ‘back,’ though the place they all call home has become less clear. Finally the beautiful Gol Pari, written by Amir Mohammadi (performed by Camilla Ah Kin, Debbie Zukerman, Bianca Kostic-London and Amir Mohammadi) is a play made originally for the women of Afghanistan and performed in Afghanistan as a think piece intended to rouse women to stand for their own emancipation. Mohammadi, himself an immigrant to Australia, tells us about the difficulties he and the women of his country experienced, simply because they wanted women to be educated. The play is deceptively simple, and all the more heartbreaking for its connection to the real life experience of women who live with the threat of being stoned to death on almost any whim a person with the slightest authority may conjure up. As Mohammadi said himself, the greatest crime in Afghanistan is to be born a woman. In his play, he tries to help the women see that they have value beyond that assigned outside of them.

Stories might not bring us closer to the Other, but they do bring us closer to ourselves, and they tell us that the question of seeking asylum in Australia should never include a cultural conversation, but rather remain firmly in the realm of human rights and freedom of speech.

The only reason we can hear these stories, is because the tellers have been able to find their voice in our country.

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