Asylum-seeker debate goes graphic

April 15, 2014

Early this year, two webcomics depicting Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers were published by opposing sides of the debate.
“At Work Inside Our Detention Centres: A Guard’s Story,” by Nick Olle and Sam Wallman, was the last story published by The Global Mail.

While the medium is not the standard for government advertising or long-form journalism, two comics concerning our government’s asylum-seeker policies were released online throughout February: “At Work Inside Our Detention Centres: A Guard’s Story,” by reporter Nick Olle and illustrator Sam Wallman, was published by The Global Mail February 6th; and a dialogue-free comic, meant to dissuade asylum seekers arriving by boat, was released online by the Department of Customs and Border Protection February 11th, although it was originally developed by the Rudd government.

Olle’s and Wallman’s “At Work” describes the experiences of a former guard hired by security company Serco to work in one of Australia’s onshore detention centres. The comic vividly depicts conditions within the centre, incidents of self-harm amongst the detainees, and the “prison” culture the company enforced. It also more abstractly represents the degraded mental health of both detainees and guards alike.
“At Work” was based on a former Serco employee’s experiences.

Customs’ comic also depicts conditions inside centres, serving as a more straightforward cautionary tale of a man journeying to Australia by boat and consequently being deported to an offshore facility. It ends with the man alone in the mosquito-ridden camp.

The Customs and Border Protection comic depicts a detainee’s journey.

Responses to the comics ranged but a frequent criticism of the Customs’ story was the lack of apparent urgency for the fictional man to leave his home country, beyond his father’s desire for the man to have a better life.

As Sydney-based Hazara refugee Shukufa Tahiri told SBS, “It doesn’t show any security threat. There’s no element of [the] force or desperation that leads someone [to] think about fleeing the country.”

This is an edited version of an article published by the Walkley Magazine, March-May 2014.

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