Doco exposes the human impact of deportation


The Deported

A BBC and Arte France co-production
Tuesday, February 24, 7.30pm


The Deported follows what happens to five asylum seekers, some from Afghanistan and some from Mali, after being deported from France. Most Air France flights from Paris now carry one or more deportees.

Mali is a former French colony. In the 1960s, Malians were encouraged to come to France as "guest workers". Now, very few who come looking for work are allowed to stay. Last year, France deported 25,000 people who arrived without authorisation, many of them from Mali.

One of the asylum seekers featured is Daouda. His immediate family live in France. When his parents emigrated from Mali, he was left behind with his grandparents. As a teenager, he became determined to rejoin them. Daouda saved enough money to pay for the illegal passage to France, three times the average annual salary in Mali. It took him nine months, crossing the Sahara Desert to reach France, but only five hours to be deported after his application to stay was rejected.

Britain has an agreement with the government of Afghanistan to return refugees, by force if necessary. In 2003, the British Labour government was the first in the world to begin forced deportations to Afghanistan; 228 Afghans had been sent back at the time of this film's making.

One young Afghan man, Sardi, had been living and working in England for four years while his asylum claim was being processed. He was met by police at the train station on the way to work one day, fingerprinted and told his case had been rejected. He was arrested and deported the next day, leaving behind all his possessions.

Under Britain's agreement with Kabul, people can only be deported to safe areas in Afghanistan where they can be retrained. Despite this, Sardi has no choice but to return to an insecure village, which offers no prospects of employment.

The Deported, which was co-produced by the BBC and Arte France, exposes the injustice of treating asylum seekers like criminals. It offers an insight into the hopelessness and despair people experience when they are forced to return to countries that can offer no future.

But there is an uglier side to deportations which the documentary does not explore. The interim report issued by Australia's Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education in October revealed that people who have been deported face torture and imprisonment.

The centre's researchers also revealed that agents of the Australian government encouraged deportees to buy false papers. Out of 10 interviews with Australian deportees in Syria, six had been encouraged to get false passports. Consular officials assisted in moving people with false documents through stopovers, making it less likely that they would be detected. Government officials gave deportees bribery money to secure acceptance by immigration officials through different countries on the journey.

The Deported shows that, while the Australian government has been a pioneer in the harsh and punitive treatment of refugees, it is not alone.

From Green Left Weekly, February 18, 2004.
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