A movie commissioned by Australia’s immigration department to deter Afghan asylum seekers has had its premiere on local TV, seeking to reinforce a widely held view that unauthorised travel to Australia is not worth the risk.
The Journey is a lavish production depicting hopeful asylum seekers who meet tragic fates crossing the Indian Ocean.
Underwritten by $6m in Australian taxpayers’ money and filmed in three countries, it was shown on Friday on two channels in , the world’s second-largest source of refugees and migrants in 2015, after Syria.
“It was hard to watch. It made me very upset,” Ali Reza, an 18-year-old tailor said about the film. “I know they were actors, but these things really happen to Afghans.”
, which produced the film for $4.34m, says on its website the movie aims to inform audiences “about the futility of investing in people smugglers, the perils of the trip, and the hardline policies that await them if they do reach Australian waters”.
Judging from the responses of scores of young men who spoke to the Guardian, that goal was largely achieved.
“It was a good movie,” said Mostafa Ebadi, 23. “It showed the lies smugglers tell passengers before leaving.”
Mohammad Tawab, 23, said he had been particularly moved by scenes of refugees languishing in an Indonesian prison. For Yama Taheri, who was playing football in a downtown Kabul park, the most disturbing sequence was one in which three brothers drown. “It made me think that if I try to go with friends, this will be our destiny,” he said.
Before the current Syrian conflict forced millions to flee that country, Afghanistan was by far the in the world for more than three decades. Neighbouring countries Pakistan and Iran hosted most of the displaced Afghans, but .
. Each year since 2009, between 96% and 100% of Afghan asylum seekers have had their claims for refugee status upheld.
But in recent years fewer and fewer Afghans have set their sights on Australia. Harsher asylum policies and have deterred many. The vast majority of Afghan asylum seekers in 2015 went to Europe, with more than alone.
For three years Daud Hossaini, 42, planned to join his brother in Australia. As asylum policies tightened, he hesitated, but retained hope that the forthcoming federal election might bring change. But on Friday, after seeing the movie, he finally buried his hopes of moving to Australia.
“If I die on the way, what’s the point of going?” he said.
Lapis Communications, who promoted and adapted the movie to Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan, denied they were producing government propaganda.
“The backers of the film are credited, that is neither hidden or denied,” said Sarah-Jean Cunningham, director of operations and business development. “More importantly, the ideas and values around the film are grounded in addressing a very serious and tragic issue – with the ultimate objective of saving lives.”
Cunningham denied the fee earned by Lapis – $1.63m – was excessive. “The cost is reflective of the extent of that significant scope of work,” she said.
However, not everyone bought the message. As security worsens and employment becomes scarcer, Afghans will continue to leave. Humayoon, 29, who saw part of the movie before rushing off to a wedding, said he was only staying in Afghanistan as long as he had a job.
“If I can’t feed my family, what am I supposed to do?”