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A movie secretly filmed inside Pacific refugee camps

While the plight of Myanmar's Rohingya refugees makes global headlines, the predicament of detainees on Manus Island and Nauru has largely been forgotten. But two Iranians have documented their misery for the celluloid.

"Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time" is a documentary film secretly shot by an Iranian asylum seeker in a camp on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. The movie, directed by Behrouz Boochani and the Holland-based Iranian filmmaker Arash Kamali Sarvestani, received acclaim at two prestigious international film festivals.

The word "chauka" means a honey-eating bird that lives on Manus Island. Ironically, it is also the name of a solitary confinement unit inside a Manus refugee camp. The movie claims that detainees are regularly tortured in this unit.

Behrouz Boochani, iranischer Regisseur (Behrouz Boochani)

'We accomplished an impossible mission,' Boochani told DW

The collaboration between Boochani and Sarvestani began when Boochani, who is a journalist by profession and had lived as an asylum seeker on Manus Island for more than four years, sent video shots through his mobile phone to Sarvestani.

Over ten thousand minutes of voice conversation between Boochani and Sarvestani over WhatsApp laid the foundation for the story of the movie that describes the misery of Iranian and other asylum seekers who had travelled thousands of kilometers in the hope of reaching Australia but ended up in a detention center on Manus Island.

It was difficult to shoot at the camp, which was closely monitored by CCTVs. Also, most Iranian asylum seekers were reluctant to talk to Boochani.

"We made this film in a very difficult situation. Now when I look back, I realize that we have accomplished an impossible mission," Boochani told DW. He said the movie was shot over a period of six months. "This film brings to light the plight of some 2,000 forgotten refugees living in these camps. We wanted their voice to be heard globally," Boochani added.

Arash Kamali Sarvestani (privat)

Sarvestani says the film is about refugees as well as local people, claiming that both are victims of Australia's migration policies

Draconian policy

Australia has held 2,125 people in offshore detention centers on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and Nauru over the past four years, according to Australia's Department of Immigration. At the end of September, there were still 1,111 people in the detention centers, with 742 on Manus and 369 on Nauru.

Read more: Australia begins Manus resettlements to US

The majority of these people have been granted refugee status by the authorities of these two countries. But reports suggest that they do not want to be resettled in these places as they cannot work or provide for their families there and they do not feel safe. 

The Australian government's draconian immigration policy refuses to consider asylum claims for those picked up at sea. Instead, these people are detained on these remote Pacific islands.

50 refugees from Manus and Nauru have been resettled in the US under a 2016 deal between Washington and Canberra.

 Dokumentarfilm „Chauka, wie spät ist es?“ (Chauka, wie spät ist es?)

The film is about refugees as well as local people, who are 'both victims of Australia's migration policies'

Several hundreds are undergoing the process of "extreme vetting" implemented by US President Donald Trump. The group is the first of 1,250 refugees expected to be taken in by the US as part of a refugee swap deal with the Australian government under the previous Barack Obama administration. In exchange, Australia will accept refugees held in US-run detention centers in Central America.

Hundreds of human rights advocates in Sydney recently protested the ongoing detention of asylums seekers on Pacific islands as a resettlement deadline approaches.

A forgotten plight

"'Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time" is also critical of human rights organizations, the European Union and other international bodies that have turned a blind eye to these camps," Iranian filmmaker Sarvestani told DW.

Sarvestani says the film is about refugees as well as local people, claiming that both are victims of Australia's migration policies.

The film was premiered during the 2017 Sydney Film Festival in June. It also found its way to the 61st BFI London Film Festival that ended on October 15.

Watch video 00:41

Controversial refugee center closed

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