Through in depth interviews with current and ex-detainees, we capture narrators’ histories, experiences of seeking protection in Australia and the detailed reality of mandatory detention.
These interviews are then edited into compelling first person narratives, and published as stories, video, audio and installation. Through the stories gathered, we reveal a nuanced picture of seeking asylum and life in mandatory detention – showing a reality that goes beyond queue jumpers on the one hand and passive victims on the other to reveal resilient human beings.
The narrators of the stories collected by Behind the Wire have all been in immigration detention, but their stories are not confined to that: they talk about love, family, childhood, death, resistance – and finally, about hope. You can already read a number of our stories on our website: www.behindthewire.org.au.
This year we are taking Behind the Wire to the next level. We have launched our podcast The Messenger, supported by The Wheeler Centre and The Guardian. We have a major exhibition opening at the Melbourne Immigration Museum in March. Finally, a book of stories, They Cannot Take the Sky, will published in print by Allen and Unwin and Audible. Acclaimed writer Anna Funder has said, “This book is extraordinary and humbling and necessary”.
Although there is a wealth of material available about people seeking asylum in Australia, the project fills an important gap by focusing on the lived reality of mandatory detention and by placing the voices of former and current detainees at the centre of the discussion. Narrators tell their stories in their own words through open, in-depth interviews, that are then carefully edited by our team. The result is vivid and engaging stories that cut through our polarising policy discourse, taking audiences into the reality of mandatory detention and the lives of those who experience it.
This project is groundbreaking because it takes the time and space to fully honour the stories of people who have experienced mandatory detention, in all their complexity. As Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee has said of our collection of stories, “In the richly woven polyphony of this book, we hear asylum seekers…tell of their hopes and fears, of the horrors they fled from and the soul-destroying tedium of the limbo state, of the deliberately inhuman treatment they have suffered in the camps, and the many kindnesses of individual teachers and volunteers.”
If we reach our fundraising target we will take our exhibition at the Melbourne Immigration Museum on the road so that we can share the stories we have collected with audiences in regional communities. We will complement this with live events so that people can hear directly from the narrators we work with. Furthermore, we will work towards creating supplementary materials to ensure that our stories can be used in schools. This will help make sure the materials we have already produced have the biggest possible reach and impact.