South Sudanese family’s decade-long Australian struggle kicks off Refugee Film Festival

Australian filmmaker Belinda Mason is showcasing her documentary, ‘Constance on the Edge’, for the second year in a row at the Refugee Film Festival (RFF).

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Released last year at the Sydney Film Festival, the documentary follows South Sudanese woman Constance Okot and her six children as they adjust to life in Australia after fleeing war-torn Sudan. 

The Okot family was filmed during their first 10 years of resettlement in Australia and their adjustment to living in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. It documents their joy of arriving which slowly over time turns into a struggle of acceptance from the regional town. 

Organisers say the film is a perfect fit for the festival with over 80 screenings scheduled.

 Constance is described as an “obvious leader” by filmmaker Belinda Mason.AAPInside the refugee experience

Australia has been celebrating Refugee Week as a nation since 1988, however Sydney held the first ever Refugee Week events in 1986.

The week-long celebration hopes to create more cultural awareness of the refugee community.

This year’s theme is from the second verse of the national anthem: “With courage let us all combine.” Organisers say it celebrates the courage of refugees, and of people who speak out against persecution and injustice. 

Laura Stacey media spokesperson for the Refugee Council of Australia and coordinator of Refugee Week, told SBS World News the film festival is a fantastic way for people to better understand the refugee experience.

“The inclusion of international films means that attendees can learn about aspects of forced migration that they may not have been aware of before.  For example, one of the films looks at the asylum procedure in the Netherlands, whilst another depicts the independence struggle in Western Sahara.”

Sydney premiered their leg of the film festival over the weekend with a big audience.  Ms Stacey, says Melbourne opening night had an ‘incredible reception’ and they expect big crowds throughout the city’s week of screenings.

“It’s clear that there is a great appetite within the Australian community for people to engage with this issue through the medium of the arts,” she said.

Reality Check for the Okots

‘Constance on the Edge’ explores the life of the Okot family as they get a wake up call on what life is really like in Australia.

Director, Belinda Mason and Constance met in 2006 at a Wagga Wagga town hall meeting. The two worked together on their first documentary, and eight years later they reunited. 

“Constance called me and said that things weren’t working out in a way that she had expected them to work out in Australia. Trauma had re-emerged for her, after that honeymoon period – that first period of being so engrossed about learning how to cope with a new country, a new life and once all that settle downs.”

She says many refugee’s face racism and discrimination which can be emotional triggers for them.

The Okot children are also a focus of the film. AAP

Constance’s older children faced a lot of struggle with integrating in school. Mason says the younger children found it easier to ‘belong’ because they were able to learn English really quick.

The director adds that this is a problem many refugee families face. 

“Our film is about how important welcoming is for refugees to make them feel that they do belong. That means on an institutional level and a personal level and how very small gestures can make such a world of difference.”

Melbourne’s own gets screening

David Fedele is an independent documentary filmmaker from Melbourne. His critically acclaimed documentary, ‘The Land Between’ is also being screening during Refugee Week at the Cinema Nova.

Fedele told SBS World News he takes more of a journalists approach to go deeper into his stories so he can explore “social humanitarian human rights issues.”

“For me film is the way to best connect people to stories… and go deeper into issues to humanise stories and provide a bridge between issues and stories and the audience,” he said. 

His documentary gives an insight to the hidden lives of Sub Saharan African migrants who live in the mountains of northern Morocco.

The film exposes the extreme violence and mistreatment of migrants trying to enter Europe by fence jumping through a military guarded barrier in Melilla.

Fedele’s work asks the question of how and why people are willing to risk everything, including their life, to leave their country, family and friends, in search of a new and better life.

‘Land In Between’ saw director  win a number of awards across the world including Best Film at the Naples Human Rights Film Festival 2014.

Fedele says this film is probably the one he’s most attached to.

“I can’t say favourite, I meant this film has had the most impact of any film that I have made. And also because it’s such a relevant issue, it’s a film set in Morocco but a lot of the stories are universal stories that affect situations all over the world, including very much in Australia.”

Australia, this week celebrates Refugee Week as June 20 marks World Refugee Day. 

Melbourne’s leg of the film festival runs until Friday, tickets are available from Cinema Nova.

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Mexico hit with smartphone spying claims

Activists, human-rights lawyers and journalists in Mexico have filed a criminal complaint following a report that their smartphones had been infected with spying software sold to the government to fight criminals and terrorists.

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The complaint to the attorney general’s office on Monday by nine people followed a report by the New York Times that some of them had been spied on with software known as Pegasus, which Israeli company NSO Group sold to Mexico’s government.

Citing a report by a research group that investigated the alleged spying, the complaint says the attorney general’s office and the defence ministry were among government organisations that purchased the software.

Those claiming to be targeted by the software included Carmen Aristegui, a journalist who in 2014 helped reveal that President Enrique Pena Nieto’s wife had acquired a house from a major government contractor, as well as Carlos Loret de Mola, a journalist at leading television network Televisa.

Others included in the complaint were anti-corruption activists and lawyers representing the families of 43 trainee teachers whose disappearance and apparent massacre in 2014 created a huge public relations headache for Pena Nieto.

Daniel Millan, a spokesman for Pena Nieto’s office, issued a statement saying that there was no proof the Mexican government was responsible for the spying described in the New York Times story. “We condemn any attempt to violate the right to privacy of any person,” the statement said.

A Reuters report in 2015 showed government surveillance requests were gathering speed in Mexico, raising concerns about a lack of oversight in a country plagued by corruption and collusion between security forces and criminal gangs.

Mexico’s government purchased about $US80 million ($A105 million) worth of spyware from NSO Group on condition it would only be used to investigate criminals and terrorists, the Times said.

Some Manus detainees think compo too low

Some Manus Island detainees believe the compensation they will receive under a $70 million settlement with the Australian government is too low and may reject it.

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Sudanese asylum seeker Abdul Aziz Muhamat says tensions in the immigration detention centre are high amid uncertainty about how much compensation each detainee will receive and where they will end up when it closes.

Some are considering rejecting the settlement on the basis that it amounts to an average of $36,000, although that is not how individual damages will be determined.

“According to them they are saying it’s not going to be enough,” Mr Muhamat told AAP.

“People are saying ‘we’ve actually been in this place for four years and we have got physical damage and mental damage and this small amount of money won’t do anything to help us’.”

Speaking from Port Moresby where he is receiving medical treatment, Mr Muhamat said some Manus detainees will be resettled under Australia’s deal with the United States but many will be left behind.

He said those hoping to end up in the US may accept the settlement once they know their individual compensation amounts, believing it will be harder to sue the Australian government in any new legal action once in America.

“There’s other people saying ‘no we’re not going to sign the settlement because the amount is so small’,” Mr Muhamat said.

The Australian government and operators of the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre settled the class action by 1905 current and former detainees for $70 million, most of which will be for false imprisonment and tied to the length of time spent in detention.

Law firm Slater and Gordon has received hundreds of registrations and enquiries from group members since Wednesday’s settlement announcement.

Fewer than six per cent have responded negatively to the settlement or expressed a desire to not be part of the class action, Slater and Gordon principal lawyer Andrew Baker told AAP.

“Importantly, this settlement was designed to not be forced upon any group member who does not wish to participate,” he said in a statement.

“Group members have the right to object to the proposed settlement, and are not required to participate in it, and they can also ask the court for more time to opt out of the class action, which would preserve their legal rights if that application is granted.”

Mr Muhamat said the firm has provided the group members with information about how individual settlements will be determined and told them they do not have to decide immediately.

Mr Muhamat, who is undecided about accepting the compensation, hoped to get enough to help him get proper medical treatment and build his future.

“There is nothing on the planet that they can make you forget what you have seen and what you have experienced during the last four years.”

Despite the federal government saying none of the 839 men on Manus will be settled in Australia, Mr Muhamat does not believe they will be abandoned when the centre closes in October.

Russia issues warning after US shoots down Syrian jet

Russia and the United States are at loggerheads after the US shot down a Syrian warplane on the weekend.

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The US claims the jet had dropped bombs near US-backed forces, but Syria says the plane was shot down while flying a mission against Islamic State militants.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, says the US needs to respect Syria’s territorial integrity.

“We call on the US and all the others who have forces or advisers on the ground to ensure our work is coordinated. The zones of de-escalation are one of possible options for joint progress. We call on everybody to avoid unilateral actions, to respect – I stress once again – Syria’s sovereignty and to join our work which is coordinated with the Syrian government.”

The US says it’s working on restoring what they call a “de-confliction” communications line with Russia.

They’re trying to avoid an accidental clash over Syria, a task which will now require some delicate political manoeuvring.

Russia has, for the time being, suspended its “de-confliction” agreement with the US, and has even said that in the future, it will regard any US plane found west of the Euphrates river as potential targets.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, says it’s a delicate situation.

“An incident occurred. We have to work through the incident. We have a channel to be able to do that and I think it’s going to require some diplomatic and military engagement in the next few hours to restore the de-confliction that we’ve had in place and again the de-confliction that we’ve had in place is in our mutual interest because it allows us to address what at least pro-regime forces have indicated is our common enemy, ISIS (Islamic State).”

General Dunford has, however, defended the decision to shoot down the plane.

“We made every effort to warn those individuals not to come any closer and then the commander made a judgment that there was a threat to the forces that we were supporting and took action. The only actions that we have taken against pro-regime forces in Syria – and there have been two specific incidents – have been in self-defence, and we’ve communicated that clearly.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump are scheduled to meet in Germany early next month.

Military expert Pavel Felgenhauer has told Al Jazeera it will be their chance to patch things up.

“There’s not that much real change on the ground. Yes, they say they’re going to use the de-escalation channel, but then again soon at the beginning of July President Putin and President Trump will meet in Hamburg. And that’s where they can bury the hatchet and resume again this de-escalation, because really no-one wants to fight.”

Iran is now involved too.

It’s fired surface-to-surface missiles at IS positions in eastern Syria, in retaliation to an attack in the Iranian capital, Tehran, earlier this month, for which IS claimed responsibility.

Iran’s decision to get involved for the first time highlights just how complex the situation in Syria has become.

 

Mitchell says Hawks on right track in AFL

Tom Mitchell knows he will struggle to convince people outside Hawthorn that he is fortunate with his AFL lot.

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While the star onballer is enjoying a great first season at his new club, the Hawks have fallen off the cliff.

Hawthorn are second-last, they have lost their last two games and their first assignment coming out of the bye is the ladder-leading Crows on Thursday night at Adelaide Oval.

Mitchell is surely leading their best and fairest voting – a rare highlight in a brutal season for the power club of the past decade.

This year was always going to be a step into the unknown for the Hawks, given stars Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis had left.

They brought in Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara to bolster their midfield, but O’Meara has struggled again with knee problems.

Veteran defender Josh Gibson is definitely in his last season, spiritual leader Luke Hodge is probably the same and Shaun Burgoyne has another year left in him at best.

The only key off-field figure still at the club from a year ago is legendary coach Alastair Clarkson – the president, chief executive and football manager have all changed.

And given how their draft picks stand, the Hawks will need to manufacture something impressive to bolster their recruiting prospects later this year.

But Mitchell has no doubts the Hawks will find a way.

“I’m definitely enjoying it – it’s a great club to be a part of and a great culture,” the former Sydney player said.

“I’m very fortunate to be in the position that I’m in … I can understand why there would be some conjecture about that, just with the results.

“But I’m sure that with Clarko leading the way, and guys like Hodgey and Roughy (captain Jarryd Roughead) and the great leaders we have, that we’re on the right track.”

Mitchell is similarly upbeat about taking on the Crows, despite the difficulty of Thursday’s assignment.

In round 11, the Hawks took an inexperienced side to Adelaide Oval and Port Adelaide easily beat them by 51 points.

“What better way to (start) the second half of the year, against the team that’s on top of the ladder … and see how we go,” he said.