Asylum “Five” – Who are we as we refuse the asylum seeker? (Theatre Review)
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.
In four excellent short performances as part of the Asylum series, number ‘Five’ has us examine the person on the safe side of the razor wire – that is, us. Who are the Australian’s that make up the community that vote to ‘stop the boats,’ a political position that (currently the Abbott government is spending 1.2 billion a year on these off shore ‘facilities’) costs the country far more than if we welcomed and integrated those seeking asylum? Who are the Australian’s who are outraged by what is happening to asylum seekers, and yet save their indignation for red-wine-and-camembert-bitching with friends over dinner? Where is the system breaking down? What does our refusal of asylum seekers tell us about who we are as Australians?
It is fashionable at the moment to ‘break down’ questions such as these into ‘simplistic’ approaches that supposedly refuse complexity. We might say, to refuse an asylum seeker is a ‘natural’ result of some antique evolutionary hysteria that was developed over millions of years to protect our mini tribe against antagonistic intruders – and little can be done about it. Or we might argue that the messy problems of other countries are not our concern, and that true nationalistic rebels would be better to remain in their own country and fight for reform than clutter our clean way of living with problems they bring from home. We might even say we don’t believe these folk are needing asylum, rather that they are scamming a overliberal democracy.
To pretend that these are statements of simplicity, lucidity and clarity is to ignore the role of consciousness in our lives. It can easily be argued that consciousness is aroused when a problem arises. At the crudest level, I can state we are not conscious of the functioning of our heart, until something goes wrong with it and then we become aware. Likewise, we are not conscious of needing to eat, until our body tells us we are hungry. Awareness then, is not a function of a naturalised instinct that is embedded within, rather it is a tool to examine, to question and to enquire. To know asylum seekers exist, to know they are coming to our shores, is an opportunity to question ourselves and the Other. To resist that questioning process and refuse it with oversimplistic posturing, is to refuse the evolutionary act that asks not for a conditioned response, but for an enquiry into something new.
But as Steven McCall’s play, Safekeeping (performed by Lara Lightfoot, Suzanne Gunsekra and Whitney Richards and directed by Erin Taylor) we ignore this instinct to become conscious at our peril. On a vast farm in far northern Australia, Amala has escaped detention and is on the run from the law. After the authorities declare her to be deceased she is discovered by Maggie and her father Robert, farmers struggling under their workload. Maggie and Robert offer Amala a secret haven where they will protect her in exchange for her work on the farm, but as time goes by, the lies Robert and Maggie have told themselves about who they are, transform into the most horrific acts of abuse of human rights. It is not the monster out there that we need to fear, it is the monster within. Saving Asylum seekers is an aggressive act of self-preservation, a way to avoid the simplistic reductionism that limits our capacity for creative solution that is part of who we are.
Likewise, in Paul Gilchrists play The Danger of Safety, (also directed by Erin taylor) Abi Rayment plays a woman transformed by a stroke induced awareness, who turns to take refuge in moral posturing, reducing everything to an ever narrowing analysis driven by something she never questions. It has been said many times that one of the problems for Australian’s is they have never had to fight for what they have. Perhaps the threat of removal might actually cause Australian’s to understand what they have in their hands, and help them distinguish a friend from foe.
3 Angry Refugees by Tania Cañas is a very funny out take on the truth of the complexity of the individual and the overwhelming conviction that the question of asylum is one of human rights and freedom of speech, not a question of the good or bad nature of the asylum seeker themselves. If asylum seekers are refused because it is assumed they will become an economic burden, 3 Angry Refugees toys with this notion by revealing the fully integrated refugee to be entirely constrained, even as they act, by the oppression of racist policy combined with the oppression of left-wing integrations and all-inclusive policies. It is difficult to know which is more debilitating, the refusal of one’s right to existence or the minute inclusion of every facet of that existence embedded as policy.
Finally, Ruth Melville’s play called The Complete Guide (performed by Rob Johnson, Stephen Wilkinson and Paul Armstrong and directed by Olivia Satchell) reveals the horrible truths behind the decision to get on a boat and flee your country; that it is often a decision made in a moment of necessity, often meaning important loved ones have been left behind and it does not automatically provide safety. A man and his son find themselves in a terrible situation when they flee for Australia only to find the country has changed a great deal, and that usually the people who deal one on one with processing, have little influence to make a difference. It is a chilling indictment on the length of time this so-called “processing” can take.
Every attempt at simplification of the refusal of the asylum seeker remarkably contains its own refutation. Consciousness and awareness of asylum seekers is not something to be ignored, it is an opportunity to examine outside of a system that has not yet solved the problem. To ignore the asylum seeker, is to refuse an internal process that saves us from the darker part of ourselves that must always be held to account under the start revelatory light of consciousness. The asylum seeker is an opportunity for the Australian to think within a system, not a threat to an already functioning way of life.