Review of A Well Founded Fear
Directed by Bentley Dean and Anne Delaney

Screened as part of the Sydney Film Festival, A Well Founded Fear investigates the fate of a number of refugees deported by the Howard government. Filmmaker Phil Glendenning travels to Afghanistan, Syria and Iran to meet with these failed asylum seekers and determine whether they are in fact “safe” since their removal from Australian detention centres.

The documentary is part of the Edmund Rice Centre’s long-term project, “Deported to Danger” which is documenting the experiences of a sample of asylum seekers since their deportation from Australia.

The film, as well as the “Deported to Danger” reports of 2004 and 2006, reveal that many of the refugees removed by the Howard government were returned to situations where they faced persecution or torture, and in a number of cases, death. Both also expose the corruption and inhumane practices deployed by the Government in removing asylum seekers from Australian shores.

The 2004 report interviewed 40 deportees and found that 35 of those interviewed were immediately placed in dangerous circumstances upon arrival in their home countries. The follow-up report in 2006 found that of the further 36 deportees interviewed, all were deported to situations of immediate danger.

The footage the documentary team was able to capture provides a distressing illustration of the fate of these returnees. The film is shot simply and without pretension. A number of deportees come from various parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to meet and talk to Glendenning in his hotel in Kabul.

Each refugee conveys their story, detailing the situations of danger and fear that they have been exposed to since their return. Whilst staying in Kabul, Glendenning is also visited by the mother of an Afghani man who was deported from Nauru and has been missing since his arrival in Afghanistan.

The film could not have been screened at a more relevant time. Since the beginning of its term the Rudd government has forcibly deported at least another seven asylum seekers from Villawood detention centre. An analysis of ministerial discretion decisions made by Immigration Minister Chris Evans signals that Labor is being even tougher on asylum seekers than the Howard government.

Although the documentary focuses on the legacy of the Howard government’s refugee policy, the film is also a well-timed reminder that Howard’s treatment of refugees had the full backing of the Labor opposition at almost every turn. The Rudd government’s recent announcement that there will be an inquiry into the policy of immigration detention in Australia is far from adequate given the recent deportations and the urgent situation of the refugees currently incarcerated.

One can only imagine how difficult it would have been to track down and subsequently meet with refugees who were so hastily deported from Australia. The Australian government does not publish any information about returned refugees.

It is to the credit of the film-makers and the writers of the “Deported to Danger” report that this information is being made publicly available at all. By documenting the results of refugee deportations for an Australian audience, A Well Founded Fear makes an important contribution to the ongoing struggle under Labor to scrap Australia’s inhumane refugee policy and end deportations.

By Anthea Vogl

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