Communication lockdown for refugees outside Australia's borders

Refugees risk their lives on leaky boats trying to reach Australia, only to be sent to detention in offshore camps. It's a life spent in lockdown, both for refugees trying to communicate with the outside world, and for the world trying to see in.

Claire Reilly
1 of 17 Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection

The journey to Australia

Since 2000, more than 60,500 asylum seekers have crossed the ocean trying to come to Australia. Many find themselves foundering in the ocean on boats that are barely seaworthy. Others have reached Australia, but since 2014 they have been turned away from the country's shores.

2 of 17 Australian Border Force

You will not make Australia home

Australia has one of the toughest immigration policies in the world. In 2014, the Australian government went on an advertising blitz, posting this message on YouTube, warning asylum seekers not to come to the country by boat.

3 of 17 Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection

Message of warning

A storyboard created by Australia's Department of Immigration warns people in Afghanistan about the dangers of people smuggling.

4 of 17 Khadim Da/“Chasing Asylum” documentary, 2016

Messages spread to Indonesia

The Australian Governmnent sent its "No Way" message far and wide, in 17 different languages. This sign, posted in a stall in Indonesia, warns refugees that even if they've registered with the United Nations, they still won't be able to settle in Australia.

5 of 17 Viva Tung/CNET

Refugees sent to the Pacific

People that attempt to come to Australia by boat without a visa are known as "illegal maritime arrivals." They never set foot in Australia. Instead, they are sent to offshore processing centers on Manus Island and the Republic of Nauru, thousands of miles from the Australian mainland.

6 of 17 Behrouz Boochani

Life on Manus Island

Conditions in the camps on Manus Island and Nauru are dire. Refugees live in demountable huts and tents, with little privacy, basic sanitation and no respite from the intense equatorial heat.

7 of 17 “Chasing Asylum” documentary, 2016

Calling home

Refugees in detention have access to landline phones, though Amnesty International says phones are not always working. Amnesty also reports that refugees live in fear of having their communications monitored.

8 of 17 Behrouz Boochani

Behrouz Boochani

Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochani has been on Manus Island for three years. While he is now free to come and go from the camp and can interact with locals in town, he says he will not stop fighting for refugees in detention.

After buying a smuggled mobile phone with 50 cigarettes, he has stayed in touch with journalists and human rights groups in Australia and overseas, telling the story of life in detention.

9 of 17 Behrouz Boochani

Coral and sand

The Manus camp is home to old World War II-era huts, surrounded by rough ground made up of sand and gritty coral.

Former Manus Island guard Martin Appleby describes seeing people detained in the camp dragging themselves, shirtless, across the coral to self harm.

10 of 17 “Chasing Asylum” documentary, 2016

Hidden cameras, smuggled footage

Hidden camera footage, obtained for the documentary film "Chasing Asylum," shows a child walking alone in the Nauru camp.

With photography banned in Nauru and Manus and access for journalists all but barred, this secretly-filmed footage from whistleblowers is one of the few ways to see the reality of life in detention.

11 of 17 “Chasing Asylum” documentary, 2016

Equatorial heat

Hidden camera footage from the "Chasing Asylum" documentary shows poor living conditions, but also sheds light on the incredible boredom seen in detention. Days are spent inside military-style tents trying to stay cool.

12 of 17 “Chasing Asylum” documentary, 2016

'Kill us'

Asylum seekers can wait for months or years to get a determination on their application for refugee status, and with living conditions so grim, the camps breed a climate of despair. Self harm and attempted suicide are rampant.

13 of 17 Shane Bazzi

1,000 days in detention

In March 2016, detainees in Nauru marked 1,000 days living in the camp. While many have the option of resettling on Nauru, the tiny island is home to a population of just 10,000 and employment and accommodation options are scarce.

14 of 17 Shane Bazzi

Protests and security

Security workers watching over protests in the Nauru processing center wear body cameras to record any security incidents that occur.

15 of 17 Australian Human Rights Commission

'In Nauru, I have nothing'

A letter written by an unaccompanied child, held in the Nauru detention center. The child, who fled Pakistan and attempted to come to Australia, wrote to the Australian Human Rights Commission for its inquiry into children in detention.

"Shia people have arms, legs, noses hacked off," the child wrote. "All this means no one is safe and now because I escaped I am in detention."

16 of 17 “Chasing Asylum” documentary, 2016

Freedom and self harm

A drawing by a child in the Nauru camp, showing a person with their lips sewn together.

17 of 17 Shane Bazzi

Forgotten Children in Nauru

The Australian Human Rights Commission's "Forgotten Children" report on children in detention had one message for the Australian Government: "Australia is better than this."

Stories of child abuse once again made headlines in August 2016 when The Guardian released documents showing the extent of abuse and self harm in the Nauru camp.

As of June 2016, there were 49 children on Nauru.

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