Who wants to be a refugee?
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Who wants to be a refugee?

Who wants to be a refugee?

“Contestants on the one-off game show from the public broadcaster VPRO, part of an annual week of experimental programmes, comprise five asylum seekers who have exhausted legal avenues to stay in the Netherlands and await imminent deportation to their country of origin.

They compete in a quiz about Dutch culture, history and language, with the winner awarded €4,000 (£3,500) to help cushion them when they are expelled. Consolation prizes include a bulletproof vest”. (Peter Walker, Guardian)

To what extent can we use entertainment to exploit communicate messages concerning the humanity of asylum seekers and refugees? It is like playing Russian Roulette, but the empty chambers are actually loaded, and the loaded chamber empty.

There are two premises to this show that are false. First, according to the Guardian article, “the intention is, far from mocking asylum seekers, to instead demonstrate how well integrated many are”. I’m sorry, I am afraid the answer we were looking for is ‘entertainment’. Any pretence that the underlying purpose of this show is to raise awareness of the country’s tightening immigration laws is false. The stakes are too high for those competing. The entertainment value is right where the producers want it to be. This is why we love game shows. We love to see people lose – it’s very satisfying. Besides, to measure the affect of this show, and determine whether it ‘raises awareness’, the network would need to run a randomised controlled trial (RCT), for which a control group watches Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Second, that the intention of the show is to demonstrate integration. So, how does the game show work? How do the contestants demonstrate how well integrated they are?  Well, like the author of the Guardian article, I Google translated the Weg van Nederland website. Apparently, the host, flanked by two air hostesses,

“bombarded them with quiz questions that they can prove how much they have learned in the Netherlands, including for the Dutch royal family, history, map of the Netherlands, Dutch artists and the Dutch language”.

Photograph: Desmet/Paul Weijenberg / EPA

If people had to prove how well integrated they are by answering questions concerning a nation’s history, culture, language, and politics, I’m afraid many natural-born citizens would lose. Hell, I would probably lose if I was bombarded with questions about Australia. I could competently answer questions about 2nd Century Roman history or about the offensive line of the Minnesota Vikings, but many Australian-related questions would probably elude me:

1) In what year did Federation take place?

2) What are the three levels of government in Australia?

3) What was Don Bradman’s test batting average?

4) How fast could Prime Minister Bob Hawke skoll a yard glass?

5) Which one of these celebrities is NOT Australian? Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo?

6) How many kilos did Warnie lose in order to get hitched with Liz Hurley?

7) What exactly is a ‘flaming galah’?

How many steps between this game show and Big Brother is there? Why not just skip those steps, and install cameras throughout places like Christmas Island, which will broadcast directly into viewers’ homes? Before the Australian Government’s political agreement with Malaysia was scuttled by the High Court, a recording of the swap was to be uploaded onto YouTube. There are other ways to effectively use media as a medium to advocate, educate and raise awareness about issues like immigration.

Depending on the ratings, I’m sure there is already talk of spin-offs. Why not have a children’s version of the show, in which unaccompanied minors compete in the style of game shows such as, ‘Are you smarter than a 5th grader?’ or ‘Amazing‘? We could even skip the need to remake the 1987 classic, The Running Man, and just adapt it to a reality TV format:

“Damon Killian is the host of THE RUNNING MAN, a game show wherein convicted felons asylum seekers are given the chance to run to freedom but have to elude the stalkers; men who hunt them down and kill them in gruesome manners”.

Tony Abbott could be Dynamo, Chris Bowen, Subzero, and Bob Katter, Buzzsaw.


The only saving grace from this new form of game show is that despite the cruelty demonstrated towards its contestants, it comes no where near that displayed previously on some Japanese game shows. Well, not yet at least.



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Brendan Rigby

Managing Director & Co-founder at WhyDev
Brendan is an education specialist and co-founder of WhyDev. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education exploring complementary basic education and the literacy practices of out-of-school children in northern Ghana. Formerly, he was an Education Officer with UNICEF Ghana, and Director of Venture Support with StartSomeGood. Brendan has also been an education consultant and trainer for Plan, UNICEF, ScopeGlobal and the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority. He is obsessed with tea, American football and karaoke.

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12 thoughts on “Who wants to be a refugee?

  1. Red

    Provocative topic and agree with you completely. Applaud the way you worked in The Running Man and the Vikes – Bravo Sir, Bra-Vo.

  2. Madeleine Kingston

    Refer further comment to "Australian Government Goes Viral on Refugees." 3 August 2011

    re Plaintiff M70/2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship; Plaintiff M106 of 2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship [2011] HCA 32 (31 August 2011) http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml; http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/history.shtml

    The Decision has no impact on possibility of reintroduction of Temporary Protection Visas ( #TPVs) Challenge against these evil instruments with alleged deterrence goals may need to be the subject of future High Court challenges.

    Elsewhere I will discuss views re long-term impacts of mandatory detention and temporary protection visas, with particular ref to the views of Dr David Corlett, PhD Research Associate La Trobe Uni, & Swinburne Inst Soc Research, Melb, Vic; author Following Them Home: The Fate of the Returned Asylum Seekers (2005) & related 2007 as well as the views of Julian Burnside, AO, QC Melb Vic

    #asylumseekers #refugees #returnees

    Madeleine Kingston (@skylark100AU1 Twitter)

  3. Madeleine Kingston

    continuation last post x2

    Some commenters speculate that in the TPVs may not last as long as an ice-cream on a hot day. I hope they are right. At a future stage I would like to raise discussion of the views of Dr David #Corlett, PhD, whose work I greatly respect and frequently cite in relation to the proper handling of asylum returnees and the devastating long-term effects of both mandatory detention. I am also a great admirer of Julian Burnside, AO, QC one of Australia’s strongest advocates against mandatory detention and very familiar with his work.

    In addition, at least in Australia, measures may be adopted to humiliate further those who are deemed to be 'unwanted' or 'failed asylum seeker, even if no assessment has occurred. It is up to NGOs and other parties to the Refugee Movement to pressurize for more appropriate and humane ways of dealing with returnees regardless of reason.

    Madeleine Kingston (skylark100AU1 Twitter) Victoria Australia

  4. Madeleine Kingston

    continuation last post

    The likelihood is, despite the Australian High Court outcome 31 Aug M70/2011 and M106/2011 that measures will be considered carefully that policy makers and politicians can get away with.

    There is nothing to stop the reintroduction of Temporary Protection Visas (#TPVs) and Minister Bowen has not out-ruled this measure. If reintroduced this measure will separate families; prevent family reunion and may well have the perverse and untended effect of precipitating risky boat journeys as wives and families unable to tolerate separation from souses/fathers, decide to risk their lives to join them, knowing that going through humanitarian channels will not work under TPV provisions.

    continued next post

    Madeleine Kingston (skylark100AU1 Twitter) Victoria Australia

  5. Madeleine Kingston

    @whydev Brendan Thanks for your mention on Twitter re my responses to this and a related article on Australian policy and government and public responses ( “Australian Government goes viral on #refugees” bit.ly/qylYPH on #asylumseekers.

    The recent High Court Decision should be considered to be a one-sided uncomplicated victory

    Plaintiff M70/2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship; Plaintiff M106 of 2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship [2011] HCA 32 (31 August 2011)

    My suspicion is that the High Court Decision will harden the stances of the politicians in Australia, and especially the Prime Minister and current Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen.

    The message of deterrence is still on the agenda. The Australian Government, for example, facing considerable political pressure and disarray in large part triggered by the High Court Decision of 31 August

    Continued next post..

    Madeleine Kingston (skylark100AU1 Twitter)

  6. Madeleine Kingston

    Here's a link that will enable feedback on Netherlands policy in answer to the question

    "Should The Netherlands reform its #asylum policy?"

    On face value it may seem that it may be pointless entering such a dialogue.

    There are commonalities in the formulation, adoption and implementation of #asylum and #refugee policy across the board among those countries who are signatories to various UN Conventions and Treaties including


    #1967Protocol (optional to signatories to the 1951UNConventionP

    The International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights < #ICCR >

    or 1967 Protocol; or to other Treaties like the International Convention for Political Rights (#ICCPR incl Art 2

    UN Convention Against Torture incl Art 3

    UN Convention for the Rights of the Child

    Also relevant is the UN Declaration of Human Rights 1948 , which forms part of customary law

    Policy makers politicians and their legal advisers habitually and conveniently ignore customary law, international #refugee #asylee ( #asylumseeker) provisions and any inclusions in domestic law as they may have deigned to include.

    When it comes to interpretation, fierce battles, often undignified, occur when the judiciary exercises the difficult task of interpretation of such provisions, as has been demonstrated in the outcomes of the recent Australian High Court Judgment 31 August

    Plaintiff M70/2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship; Plaintiff M106 of 2011 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship [2011] HCA 32 (31 August 2011)

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/63629869/High-Court-Mal… summary

    I will post similar and further information and links here later and on a related article by Brendan Rigby "The Australian Government goes viral on refugees"


    Madeleine Kingston

    @skylark100AU1 Twitter

    Victoria Australia

  7. Madeleine Kingston

    I thought this link would be useful in the context of Brendan Rigby's article above in discussing the migration paradox, though I hasten to add that this is a case of failed asylum application after 11 years, resulting in deportation, not regular economic migration.

    The distinction between obligation under international law, including voluntary treaties and conventions (rarely if ever enforced, and very lightly considered by participating states/countries); domestic provisions for the handling of #refugees #sales ( #asylum seekers ) and regular migrants is rarely understood, or at any rate rarely acknowledged in the context of policy decisions made. This I believe to be mostly a deliberate policy meander to suit economic and political goals rather than anything based on proper acknowledgement of #asleep and #refugee of #humanitarian rights.

    Dutch game show gives asylum seekers cash, but no home < http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15362321,00…. >

    Author: Cintia Taylor, Amsterdam concludes her article with these ironic observations:

    "In the end, the winner of the 4,000 euro prize was law student Gulistan from Armenia, who left her country 11 years ago.

    Once she's back in Armenia, she'll receive the prize money she won thanks to her thorough knowledge of the Netherlands – the very country that deported her."

    So many policy gaps worldwide and so few humane responses.

    Madeleine Kingston Australia

    @skylark100AU1 Twitter

  8. Madeleine Kingston

    Brenda Rigby – author of article – This is addressed to you personally as Education Officer with UNICEF in Tamale, Ghana. I understand that you were a Senior Researcher and Project Manager in the Learning & Teaching Department of the FBE at Macquarie University. MA in Development Studies at the University of NSW. You also interned with the Centre for Refugee Research. You also have an MA in Development Studies at the University of NSW.

    This range of qualifications and experiences equips you to write about current issues on a range of issues with an eloquence and on the ground experience that I cannot boast of.

    What I can say is that I am passionate about certain issues – including #refugee #asylee (#asylumseeker) and #humanitarian issues, and have observed commonality at global level in terms of how these groups of people are received, assessed and handled. though I know far more about Australian strategies than in other countries.

    I intend to balance my available time better in responding to issues raised by http://www.why.org, Edmund Rice Centre and other organisations committed to issues that inspire me.

    I do have my say on Twitter as @skylark100AU1 on these issues; viz #refugee and #asylee and #humanitarian policy and related governance leadership accountability matters,

    and on skylark100AU2 (dedicated ecology, climate change, climate displacement with attendant humanitarian issues, utility and energy policy, leadership,. governance and accountability)

    At 140 characters per tweet Twitter has its limitations. Concerns about policy gaps need to be iterated in numerous arenas. In Australia these are wide and a crisis in governance and leadership has arisen.

    My experience of blogging on some sites has not always be positive, but I believe that this could be one arena in which I may find it possible to participate from time to time without identified drawbacks, including trolling; ideological barriers to effective communication, and the like.

    Thanks for introducing me to a new communication channel.

    Madeleine Kingston

    @Skylark100AU11 Twitter

  9. Madeleine Kingston

    I do appreciate your efforts to to raise awareness of the gaps in treating refugees and asylees with respect and dignity and affording them their entitlements under various international and domestic instruments. I will add my inputs whenever I can. See my dedicated Twitter account @skylark100AU1.



  10. Madeleine Kingston

    In your article Australian Government goes viral on refugees < http://t.co/CGPWb1r you had asked “What do they hope to capture in their filming? Are they hoping the video will go viral?" A responder refers to "sick voyeurism" I tend to agree. Whenever I have seen or hard Immigration Minister Chris Bowen speak of this plan, he is gripped with a tangible note of excitement in his voice when speaking of just how he would deliver his "message of deterrence"

    Bowen has been thwarted by the High Court decision to prevent deportation to Malaysia pursuant to current domestic laws. No doubt he will seek ways to circumvent the restrictions, or go further in embracing the provisions of the evil Howard era, with the full-strength Pacific-like Solution, including temporary protection visas, which resulted in wracking detrimental impacts from uncertainty and deprivation of family reunion.

    All of these measures are calculated to demean and humiliate those who have already faced disadvantage, persecution, torture or displacement.

    We should continue to pressurize for more humane approaches in managing asylees.

    Madeleine (skylark100AU1 Twitter)

  11. Madeleine Kingston

    Totally agree with your perspectives Brendan and Watershedd's response. There is no justification, even in the name of 'entertainment' to humiliate those facing deportation.

    As to your article regarding Australian Government goes viral on refugees < http://t.co/CGPWb1r > I agree that values of dignity & respect are bandied about glibly by those structuring unenforceable unconscionable return to danger arrangements that could re terms as refoulement even if the return is to first country of interim asylum.

    Madeleine (skylark100AU1 Twitter)

  12. Exploitation. One word that says it all. Take desperate people and they will submit to any humiliation if there is the possibility that their lives will improve by allowing themselves to be taken advantage of by a ruling majority. I'd rather watch "Go Back Where You Came From" again.

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