Tag Archives: Humanity

I love visual representations about how stupidly paranoid we all are when it comes to asylum seekers. I stole this from a friend who posted this on Facebook via this link.


I saw this movie last night. It was so powerful. It will be available to buy on DVD from 10 October and I think everyone should see it. At the moment I think it’s only shown at one location in Phnom Penh and at some universities in the US.

The director was available for questions and answers following the film. He lost three family members to the Khmer Rouge, but all he talked about was finding the truth and forgiveness. Only then could such a thing be prevented in the future. He didn’t want revenge, he just wanted to understand.

The website is if anyone wants to learn more.

I am so excited that SBS has done this and I can’t wait to see it! One of the reasons, in my opinion, behind the fear and distrust of asylum seekers in Australia is a lack of the human element in the story. I hope that after watching this show many people will think about and see the story of asylum seekers a little differently. I by no means expect people to change their minds completely and call for an increase in our numbers, but I hope it will decrease the hysteria and xenophobia directed towards one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. Perhaps it may also lead to some more considered and intelligent discussion about asylum seekers in government, the media, the workplace, and around the dinner table.

Now, how to get it onto the commercial stations…

Happy one week anniversary! We arrived here one week ago, it feels like much longer than that as we have covered so much ground. Last week consisted of training in security, culture, landmines, and child protection. The security talk left us all feeling a little nervous, especially the girls. But I think they always try to scare us. Don’t stay out or travel home alone after 10pm, don’t travel with unknown tuk tuk drivers at night, don’t bother going to the police if you are robbed or assaulted, don’t use drugs or you will go to prison for 10 years (don’t worry, wasn’t planning on doing that).

Our landmine training was conducted by the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC). This was led by Mr Sam who has worked with the Navy in the US, and with Austcare. He talked a lot about his ‘friend’ Lieutenant General Sanderson, the former Governor of Western Australia and former Chief of the Australian Army who commanded the military part of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). He also mentioned his ‘friend’ Lol Nol who was the Prime Minister of Cambodia until the Khmer Rouge took over. He seems to know all the key people in Cambodia’s history, he even met Pol Pot.

The child protection training was particularly interesting to me, and I learned a bit about orphanage tourism and the damage it can do. I plan to write a whole blog on this once I find the time to research it.

Over the weekend we visited Toul Sleng prison, a school turned prison and torture facility by the Khmer Rouge. See some of the haunting photos here.

We then visited the Killing Fields where well over one million were killed and buried in mass graves. I visited both Toul Sleng and the Killing Fields when I was in Cambodia nine years ago. Toul Sleng is essentially the same, however the Killing Fields are quite changed. Nine years ago it very a very stark and intimidating landscape. I can’t remember any buildings except for a small kiosk with photos. It left me feeling quite empty and disturbed. Now it has buildings with photos and a short movie. It has paths and it feels much more touristy and comfortable. I’m not so sure this is a good thing. I don’t believe it is the kind of place where one should feel comfortable. It is now owned by a private company which is an issue in itself. I strongly believe that all visitors to Cambodia should take the trip to Toul Sleng and the Killing Fields. Every family in Cambodia has at least one family member that was murdered by the Khmer Rouge. A number of people have told us that they are the sole survivors of their whole family.

Here are some of the photos I took (I may have gone a little overboard). To look more closely at each photo just click on it, you can them move through them like a slide show.

On a lighter note on Sunday night we watched a great local band The Cambodian Space Project at Equinox. The sound isn’t great in this video but it gives you an idea. There is another local band called Dengue Fever that I am keen to see.

This next week we spend the mornings in Khmer classes and have the afternoons to ourselves. This afternoon I am taking advantage of the free wifi at Java, a favourite cafe/gallery of mine.

By the way, I visited the apartment I mentioned in my last post. Loved it! I move in on 6 May. More later.

I am now officially unemployed (or funemployed to steal a phrase from a friend)!  Yesterday was my last day of work.  I had been at this job for just under 16 months, which in my five and a half years working as a social worker is a record for me.  For someone as restless as I am this is a testament to my wonderful team and the passion I have for the humanitarian need and human rights of asylum seekers.

One of the benefits of working with such a wonderful close knit team as I have, is the perfectly tailored farewell gifts I received.  A bottle of red wine, and a voucher for a photographic day trip in Cambodia with Nathan Horton Photography.  This includes a half day workshop and then an afternoon putting our new skills into practice.  I have bought a beautiful new camera to take with me so I can document my travels and improve my skill.  But what I loved the most about this gift, and what touched me with the realisation that my colleagues really do understand me, is the ethical photography component of this course.

While I do not expect that people who don’t know me will bother reading this blog, I am very aware of the public nature of blogs.  In this age where everything is public, one has to be very careful of what photos they post online.  I have been wondering for a while if it is OK for me to take photos of strangers and post them online.  If I photograph interesting people and situations during my travels, am I exploiting them, particularly if I am photographing children or vulnerable persons?  Do I need to obtain consent before photographing strangers, and if I do, are they really able to provide informed consent?

I had never voiced these concerns to my colleagues but they have been plaguing me for some time.  So either I am very transparent, or they just know me extremely well.  Actually, it doesn’t hurt that the individual responsible for this amazing gift is one of my best friends of nearly ten years.

UNHCR have recently released their latest figures on international asylum seeker trends in industrialised countries.  The report includes 44 industrialised countries.  I will keep saying the words industrialised countries as this is highly significant.  I have very briefly summarised the report and focused on the Australian figures for those who may be interested.

By the way, did I mention that these figures are for industrialised countries only?  If the rest of the world were included the percentages would be very different (i.e. much much much lower).

  • Australia ranked 15th in the asylum seeker receiving countries, the US ranked first (most were Chinese and Mexican)
  • In 2009 and 2010 Australian received only 2% (that’s right, 2%!) of asylum seeker applications.  This is up from 1% in 2006, 2007, and 2008
  • The top five destination countries (industrialised countries) are the US (15%), France (13%), Germany (12%), Sweden (9%), and Canada (6%)
  • When the number of arrivals is viewed as a percentage of national population the top five are Cyrpus, Malta, Sweden, Lichtenstein, and Norway
  • When viewed in terms of GDP per capita the top five are the US, France, the UK, Sweden, and Canada
  • In 2009 the top nine countries of origin were (in order) Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Russian Federation, China, Serbia, Nigeria, Iran, and Pakistan
  • In 2010 the top ten countries of origine were (in order) Serbia, Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Russian Federation, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka (which ranked 13th in 2009)

So we panic about our 2% and lock up asylum seekers so they can’t hurt us.  Here is what UNHCR have to say about that:

“The relatively small number of people coming to Australia – coming largely from the most troubled and conflict-ridden regions of the world – again demonstrates the vital importance and relevance of the Refugee Convention and asylum as the principal means of protecting people who are fleeing persecution and serious human rights violations” UNHCR Regional Representative Richard Towle said today.

“In Australia, the challenge is to maintain fair, humane and expeditious processing of all asylum claimants, irrespective of their method of entry. The current approach to mandatory detention – which involves often long periods in isolated locations and crowded conditions – is a challenge that needs particular attention.”

“Experience shows that people held in such conditions frequently experience high levels of personal stress, including self-harm.”

“UNHCR believes there are ways of managing the legitimate security concerns of States while, at the same time, providing more flexible, community-based arrangements for people in Australia while their asylum claims are being processed.”

Those who would like to read the report can find it here:

Here is the article about Australia’s intake