We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Certainly that would have been the over-riding feeling for the participants as they landed in Malaysia and being told they would be integrating with some Burmese refugees in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur for a week. For first time overseas traveller Raquel, it was always going to be a confronting moment landing in Malaysia. She handled it with her usual sweep of sensitivity and diplomacy: “Everyone is wearing a tea towel. I’m Catholic and I’ve very strong with my Catholic.” It’s become the Raquel show and understandably so… as we saw almost all the group be affected buy their experiences in this second episode of Go Back To Where You Came From.
In Malaysia almost 100,000 live in urban slums, almost all are illegals. For this time in Malaysia the participants will experience a week as a refugee in transit. What was interesting to see was the transformations as they took place. Young LNP member Roderick & Raye most obviously affected by the situation of the Chin refugees from Burma – not only their relatively squalid and cramped conditions, but also the hope and community that theses refugees maintained in the midst of constant fear of being arrested.
As the men went off to work in the fields with some of the Chin men, the ladies went to the school the children attend. Roderick clearly decided that running with political sstatement t-shirts the entire time was a good idea, though his quickly came off as his hands started to blister (“I usually work in an office where the worst injury you can get is a paper cut”). The school experience for Rae was brilliant, for Raquel not so much – seeing how the women did and didn’t interact with the kids was very telling as to how the process was affecting them. Very clear to see that the transformation of Adam began the field as it dawned on him that the refugees work for no money… just food and shelter, because to work in construction opens them up to more chance of being caught and persecuted (or worse, sent ‘home’).
After spending a week with refugees in Kuala Lumpur, the emotion was ramped up as the group were dropped into the Malaysian border patrol for a couple of days, an experience was incredible to watch and the site raid was very disturbing.
The group discussion with Dr David was a great insight into the process the participants were undergoing. The changes. The resistance. The arrogance. The realisation this was only going to get worse.
The teams then split and are sent to “feeder” countries – places where most commonly refugees land when they first flee their situation. Adam, Darren, & Gleny were sent to Jordan; Raye, Raquel & Roderick to Kenya. These are the places that thousands of refugees first land when they leave their situations. It was most apt that the Kenyan camp was Swahili for “Nowhere”. Ouch. The most beautiful scene tonight was seeing the three in the Kenyan UN refugee camp be processed into the camp AS refugees.
“What do you do?”
“Nothing, I’m unemployed. I don’t work.”
“Well what are you going to do here?”
“I dunno. Nothing.”
The conditions are poor, even by African standards. They have simple amenities (A hole in the ground is a hole in the ground when you need to go to the toilet, surely), the sleeping area is cramped, and they are warned that they will have to protect their sleeping mat they are given as once it is lost they cannot be issued with a new one. Raquel all but flips out:
“I’m not a refugee, am I – I’m an Australian and I haven’t been brought up like this. Might be easier for everyone else because they’ve grown up like this. I haven’t grown up like this so it’s not easy for me.”
Tonight’s 3rd epsiode nails the entire experience – introducing the participants to the families of those they met granted refugee status at the start of episode one, seeing the effects of war and famine and why people flee their home for their lives to begin the dangerous journey as refugees… escaping places like Iraq and Somalia/Sudan.
Do. Not. Miss. It.
Go Back To Where You Came From – final episode tonight 8:30pm, SBS one.
(Episode one airing tonight 8:30pm on SBS Two, Eps two and three Fri from 8:30pm SBS Two.)
(Entire series available online at http://www.sbs.com.au/goback.)