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The imagery of asylum seeker politics

By Barcham 24 July 2013 116

Johnboy just sent me this interesting story by The Conversation about the imagery used in Rudd’s anti-asylum seeker campaign.

Worth a look, even if just to remind yourself to remain skeptical about what images you are shown.

Woman

Worth a thousand words: the imagery of asylum seeker politics

By Phillip George

The history of Australian asylum seeker policy is studded with iconic if often distressing imagery.

In the most recent addition, officials at Christmas Island filmed and photographed a young Iranian woman, supposedly at the moment when she learnt that she will never be allowed to live in Australia, due to the Rudd government’s recently announced immigration policy.

Department for Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) says the image is intended to be seen around the world as a warning to other asylum seekers of what may happen to them if they catch a “leaky boat” to Australia. It now sits alongside images of “children overboard” and the Tampa affair in Australia’s political narrative.

But is this picture targeted towards overseas or domestic audiences? Who is the government most trying to reach with this undeniably affecting image – the boat people or the vote people?

The Conversation spoke with Professor Phillip George from the School of Media Arts at the University of New South Wales about the history of political images of asylum seekers and their effect on the body politic.


What does the image of the Iranian asylum seeker show us?

It looks like we are seeing a couple of people sitting on a floor weeping, heads in hands, and everything is thrown out of focus. I would probably say that because they were interviewed by a migration worker that it is a legitimate image and we can probably trace down the worker from the Immigration Department.

It would not be as contentious as say the “child overboard” images because we did not know who they were – but this image looks to be an easily verifiable image.

The iconic Tampa image used to boost the Howard government’s re-election campaign. AAP/Wallenius Wilhelmsen

Can we be sure the image depicts what DIAC says it depicts?

I do not think we can be sure. You have come off a plane, a boat, you are jet-lagged, you are tired, you have been travelling – they could just be tired. They could just be emotional because they have finally got to their destination and they could actually be happy. We do not know because the image is thrown out of focus and you cannot read that body posture. Is it posture of despair? Is it relief? Is it exhaustion? Is it “I am really tired of being in this queue and people asking me these stupid questions”?

I would say that you could read a whole range of answers into that including: “I have just landed and I am not going to get into Australia and I am devastated.” It could be all of or none of the above in reading of that image.

Being a crowd photograph, you find someone who is doing what you want and you quickly turn your lens on that subject and you capture it. And it is a very cleverly warped image. I understand that the image has been shown in Indonesia and off-shore so it is advertising the event very quickly.

Is it an attempt to collect a political narrative?

This has been part of a re-election campaign. This is Labor’s Tampa image. I remember speaking to a Labor parliamentarian and they actually called it the “good-ship Tampa” and that it, in a way, a guaranteed re-election of the Howard government. So I think the image-makers are crafting an explicit and powerful, pertinent image for their re-election campaign.

The children overboard saga was used as a political football in the Howard government’s re-election campaign AAP/Defence

How does the image compare to the “children overboard” image and the Tampa image in terms of its political message?

I think for the Tampa image the aerial photograph was a very dynamic, very powerful image of all these people sitting on the decks of boats and that was used by artists all over Australia for years after that.

But what the Tampa image did not do is actually show us human beings’ faces. We never saw the face of humanity on board. We only saw an aerial photograph.

With the “children overboard” we saw a scurrilous image of people in the water. Now were they in the water because the boat was sinking and they were trying to save the children by throwing them overboard? All we saw was a frame of people in the water. We were told what we were seeing there.

The interesting thing we have seen with this image is that it has been thrown out of focus. But if we left that video or camera running and put it in focus we could actually see faces looking up at the camera. It would be interesting to see the before, the after and the during of the taking of that image – so we could see the human faces.

What we do not want to see is the human faces because we get emotional, we have compassion. So the images are thrown out of focus so we have an icon, so we have a representation of someone’s face. But if we let the camera run, if we refocused and watched the image it would tell us a completely different story.

If the boats “keep coming” will the Rudd government or another future government need a tougher or more distressing image? Is this the method of political communication we have now established when it comes to communicating messages about asylum seekers?

I think we can almost guarantee that – particularly as we work into the election campaign, as Rudd ticks off all the boxes for his re-election. The icon of the Tampa and the “children overboard” are iconic images. The timing of this image is also quite exquisite. It is not only telling you that “you cannot come” but it also says, “look at this – we are showing you: you can’t come”.

Phillip George does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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harvyk1 9:38 am 29 Jul 13

Rather than more conjecture, I thought I would cite something.

http://www.sbs.com.au/goback/about/factsheets/4/are-asylum-seekers-who-arrive-by-boat-illegal-immigrants

1. Thanks to the UN Refugee Convention which we’ve signed, it is perfectly legal for an asylum seeker to travel here without a Visa.

2. “Boat People” are in fact MORE likely to be refugees (In 2010-11, 89.6% of “boat people” where found to be genuine refugees) than those who travel here under some sort of other visa and then claim asylum (only 43.7%) I will point out this has now changed my opinion of Mr Rudds PNG solution probably not enough to change my vote, but certainly give me food for thought.

3. In 2011, 34,396 visa security assessments where made, only 45 visas were refused or revoked. At 0.13% the risk is extremely low to the point that there are no security concerns.The article also points out that due to the risk of crossing by boat, plus the more rigorous security and character checks undertaken by this method it is highly unlikely a terrorist would use it to gain entry to Australia.

4. The UN Refugee Convention excludes people who have committed war crimes, crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or other serious non-political crimes from obtaining refugee status.

and finally

5. Economic status has no bearing on refugee status. A refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

Just some food for thought…

Deref 8:57 am 29 Jul 13

Roundhead89 said :

Don’t be fooled by this, it isn’t an attempt to crack down on illegal asylum seekers it is purely a short-term political fix to neutralise the illegal boat people issue in the western suburbs where the illegal aliens are dumped and causing huge social problems.

Graham Richardson said on Sky News that this “PNG Solution” is only intended to run in the leadup to the election to wedge Tony Abbott. Labor has to constantly appease the Left and their fellow travellers in the refugee/human rights lobby.

The only solution to the illegal asylum seeker issue is the reintroduction of the Howard policies including Temporary Protection Visas and towing back the boats by the Special Forces. Only then will we be free of illegal asylum seekers swarming into the country and all the damage they are doing.

Guess who listens to Alan Jones.

dungfungus 8:19 am 29 Jul 13

Dilandach said :

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

Guys, here is a tip. The people responsible for making outlandish claims are also the ones responsible for citing their sources. These sources must also be factual. I only deal in facts, not debates, its impossible to debate a fact. Please take note.

But only facts that you agree with. Facts you don’t agree with and don’t fit your perception of reality, you just simply ignore. You still haven’t acknowledged that there are detainees raping other detainees, forcing others into acts of self harm and storing weapons for the purpose of escape on Manus Island.

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

There is no such thing as a illegal asylum seeker.

That is just simply your interpretation of migration law together with playing semantics games. No its not illegal to claim asylum it is however illegal to travel to Australia with no valid visa.

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

To those throwing around the moronic term country shoppers, maybe have a look at what countries are signatorys to the refugee convention and what countries are not. It’s pretty damn clear why a lot of asylum seekers end up making the dangerous trip to Australia.

Seeing you’re so fond of sources and facts instead of outlandish claims, lets see all the countries that are not signatories inbetween Syria and here. Together with those countries that aren’t war zones, distance from original country to nearest stable signatory of the convention versus distance to Australia. So most are recently Syrian, Iranian, Afghan and to make it fair Sri lanka.

C&GM wants sources. Here is something for him to choke on.
http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/islamists-kill-20-in-nigerias-north/story-fni0xqll-1226687222077

bigfeet 6:54 am 29 Jul 13

Dilandach said :

That is just simply your interpretation of migration law together with playing semantics games. No its not illegal to claim asylum it is however illegal to travel to Australia with no valid visa..

There are no offence provisions for travelling to Australia without a visa.

The entry is not authorised but it is not a criminal offence. So if it is ‘illegal’ is simply semantics and procedural.

If there is no offence provision that carries any penalty, sanction or possibility of conviction then obviously the government does’t think its a problem.

Dilandach 9:06 pm 28 Jul 13

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

Guys, here is a tip. The people responsible for making outlandish claims are also the ones responsible for citing their sources. These sources must also be factual. I only deal in facts, not debates, its impossible to debate a fact. Please take note.

But only facts that you agree with. Facts you don’t agree with and don’t fit your perception of reality, you just simply ignore. You still haven’t acknowledged that there are detainees raping other detainees, forcing others into acts of self harm and storing weapons for the purpose of escape on Manus Island.

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

There is no such thing as a illegal asylum seeker.

That is just simply your interpretation of migration law together with playing semantics games. No its not illegal to claim asylum it is however illegal to travel to Australia with no valid visa.

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

To those throwing around the moronic term country shoppers, maybe have a look at what countries are signatorys to the refugee convention and what countries are not. It’s pretty damn clear why a lot of asylum seekers end up making the dangerous trip to Australia.

Seeing you’re so fond of sources and facts instead of outlandish claims, lets see all the countries that are not signatories inbetween Syria and here. Together with those countries that aren’t war zones, distance from original country to nearest stable signatory of the convention versus distance to Australia. So most are recently Syrian, Iranian, Afghan and to make it fair Sri lanka.

wildturkeycanoe 7:02 pm 28 Jul 13

Ben_Dover said :

wildturkeycanoe said :

I’m with you on how difficult this issue is. However, if it is such an issue for us, what is it like for other countries in the world?

http://www.migrationwatchuk.org/pressReleases#359

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dN6CHtGGo4g

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2329089/Woolwich-attack-Two-men-hack-soldier-wearing-Help-Heroes-T-shirt-death-machetes-suspected-terror-attack.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KtJKNgO_ys

I’m not sure if you misunderstood what I meant, being that illegal boat people are a big problem and how does the rest of the world cope, if they have to, with such a big political issue.
Your examples of the anti-radicalist problems are also issues to deal with world-wide, but is Australia the only country that has such a huge influx of refugees trying to get in illegally and how do other countries cope with the problem?

54-11 – ” It is not a social issue, it is not an immigration issue, it is not a border control issue. It is political, pure and simple.”
Are you kidding yourself that this is a big political stunt? How were Mr. Abbot, Ms.Gillard, Mr. Howard, our current P.M Mr. Rudd or any politician in Australia in ANY way responsible for thousands of people taking suicidal steps to get into our country illegally? The ones that do the right thing, through the right channels I have no problem with. It’s these morons who place not only themselves but also their family’s and children’s lives at risk by going through a “black market” industry that are causing the uproar. There is nothing pure and simple about the difficult, risky and illegal practices these “refugees” are going through. If it is so simple, please let us know how you plan to fix it?

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd 5:11 pm 28 Jul 13

Guys, here is a tip. The people responsible for making outlandish claims are also the ones responsible for citing their sources. These sources must also be factual. I only deal in facts, not debates, its impossible to debate a fact. Please take note.

There is no such thing as a illegal asylum seeker.

To those throwing around the moronic term country shoppers, maybe have a look at what countries are signatorys to the refugee convention and what countries are not. It’s pretty damn clear why a lot of asylum seekers end up making the dangerous trip to Australia.

dungfungus 2:52 pm 28 Jul 13

bundah said :

This is such a contentious issue and one can only surmise that never shall the twain meet.

Most would be aware that many atrocities have been committed under the banner of religion and in defence of one’s land.The problem is that many fear the worst with the influx and rise in the number of fundamentalists in recent times across the globe and understandably don’t wan’t an identical scenario in this country.

Those who consider that it’s a non-event are clearly repulsed by the inference and feel the need to resort to personal abuse when responding.This merely reflects that they are unable to control their emotions and feel the need to expose their ugly side in response to what they consider is bigotry.

I do not envy those whose responsibility it is to humanely address the border protection issues for they are obviously complex and difficult. While the most recent approach is to get tough it will invariably leave many of the genuine refugees in despair and the problem unresolved.

At the risk of having you dragged down by the usual diehards on this issue like I have been, I would like to commend you for the excellent post regarding the subject of discussion. The world has always been divided by cultural differences, national interests and political ideaolgies.
The “tyranny of distance” and being one of the youngest nations on earth used to separate Australia from this turmoil but now, the geopolitics of emotions has now been globalised.
I have no further comments on this issue.

54-11 2:41 pm 28 Jul 13

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

kakosi said :

Why do people refer to refugees as “illegal” asylum seekers? How can being a refugee be illegal?

The vast majority of what you might term Illegal immigrants/residents get a visa to Australia, arrive by plane and never leave. Of course people don’t see them arriving and they don’t stand out, so they are invisible.

No western country wants to deal with the issue of continuing wars and conditions that make people flee for their lives. Easier to blame the refugees and score political points.

Because their god is Alan jones. Rather than learn the actual laws they just blindly parrot whatever he says.

And to those saying its such a problem here, it is not. Australia takes a minimal amount of refugees.

CGN, I don’t normally agree with you, but you are dead right on both counts.

It’s just hysteria whipped up by the far right clowns that have far too much influence on the great unwashed. It is not a social issue, it is not an immigration issue, it is not a border control issue. It is political, pure and simple.

Masquara 1:38 pm 28 Jul 13

Kate Lundy looked as though she was attempting to swallow a turd as she was forced to toe the party line and supported the PNG “solution” the other night …

wildturkeycanoe 1:16 pm 28 Jul 13

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

kakosi said :

Why do people refer to refugees as “illegal” asylum seekers? How can being a refugee be illegal?

The vast majority of what you might term Illegal immigrants/residents get a visa to Australia, arrive by plane and never leave. Of course people don’t see them arriving and they don’t stand out, so they are invisible.

No western country wants to deal with the issue of continuing wars and conditions that make people flee for their lives. Easier to blame the refugees and score political points.

Because their god is Alan jones. Rather than learn the actual laws they just blindly parrot whatever he says.

And to those saying its such a problem here, it is not. Australia takes a minimal amount of refugees.

Okay, to take your own approach, where is your data? All you’ve seemed to be able to do on this debate is ask everybody else to back up their claims whilst calling them ignorant in the same breath, without giving any point of view of your own. After all, this is a debate where opinions count too, without which we’d be all very boring people like you seem to be.
What do you classify as “minimal” amount of refugees, when this government data – http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2011-2012/BoatArrivals#_Toc285178607 shows a mammoth increase in annual intake from 2008 onward, compared with the average, except for the spike created during the Iraq conflict. This appears to be a direct correlation to trouble in the middle-east, so probably has weight to all the arguments that the illegal immigrants are of Muslim or associated backgrounds.
Anyone who enters Australia without the correct documentation, or even identification, is an illegal immigrant. Just you try to get to another country without a visa or even a passport and see where it gets you – straight back home. As has long been stipulated in the media [don’t ask for references, this is common knowledge], queue jumpers are trying to bypass the normal system of gaining Australian citizenship by paying a bucket-load of cash to get entry “illegally”. Hence the crisis.
If you have something to say to support boat people instead of just being the statistics police, please feel free to contribute.

Dilandach 12:51 pm 28 Jul 13

Dilandach said :

Where are you going to process these million plus refugees per year in a timely manner?

True to form I know that half a dozen will jump on this because I missed a word. ‘Five’ should be placed in there, not per year.

Dilandach 12:39 pm 28 Jul 13

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

Because their god is Alan jones. Rather than learn the actual laws they just blindly parrot whatever he says.

Source for that or are you just attempting to generalise anyone that has an opposing view to yours? Asking for sources for each post is just laziness and shows you’re just completely unable to seperate yourself from emotional issues and resort to attempting to cut people off for not citing sources for each and everything that is said when you yourself won’t do it. Sources are no more than a google search away.

And to those saying its such a problem here, it is not. Australia takes a minimal amount of refugees.

Source? Even though I know Australia ranks around 68th per capita but even that is skewed considering the top countries are Pakistan, Iran and Syria. We don’t have sprawling tent cities lived in by multiple generations of refugees. Not that you’re interested in those people, they didn’t pay and cheat their way across so screw them.

You want us up around the top 5 or 10? Where are you going to put these half a million to a million per five year average arrivals, considering that the infrastructure that we have in place is already overloaded? Where are you going to process these million plus refugees per year in a timely manner? How are you going to be sure that you’re not letting in those that have criminal convictions or tendencies would you take personal responsibility? What work are these million plus refugees going to be given? How are you going to avoid ethnic enclaves turning into slums? Are you going to force people to live in outback areas rather than cities close to their relatives? Where is the money going to come from to support all of this, what would you say to the homeless, disability carers, disability and old age pensioners and the multitude of other systems within Australia that are already crying out for money?

You look down your nose on the system by saying we don’t take enough but that’s as far as you go. Calling people out or insinuating as racists whilst sitting on your own hands is just intellectually lazy and stands to your character that when the questions are asked you’re no where to be found.

shauno 10:39 am 28 Jul 13

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd said :

kakosi said :

Why do people refer to refugees as “illegal” asylum seekers? How can being a refugee be illegal?

The vast majority of what you might term Illegal immigrants/residents get a visa to Australia, arrive by plane and never leave. Of course people don’t see them arriving and they don’t stand out, so they are invisible.

No western country wants to deal with the issue of continuing wars and conditions that make people flee for their lives. Easier to blame the refugees and score political points.

Because their god is Alan jones. Rather than learn the actual laws they just blindly parrot whatever he says.

And to those saying its such a problem here, it is not. Australia takes a minimal amount of refugees.

Its simple really and not hard to understand. They are not refugees far from it. They pass through a number of countries before attempting to get to Australia purely because they are country shoppers or illegal economic migrants. The countries borders must be brought back under control. We will then bring in genuine refugees and migrants of our own choosing.

Comic_and_Gamer_Nerd 9:59 am 28 Jul 13

kakosi said :

Why do people refer to refugees as “illegal” asylum seekers? How can being a refugee be illegal?

The vast majority of what you might term Illegal immigrants/residents get a visa to Australia, arrive by plane and never leave. Of course people don’t see them arriving and they don’t stand out, so they are invisible.

No western country wants to deal with the issue of continuing wars and conditions that make people flee for their lives. Easier to blame the refugees and score political points.

Because their god is Alan jones. Rather than learn the actual laws they just blindly parrot whatever he says.

And to those saying its such a problem here, it is not. Australia takes a minimal amount of refugees.

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