By Kim Shaddick
Filmmaker Jolyon Hoff and Afghan Hazara refugee, photographer and human rights advocate, Muzafar Ali spoke to Penrith Selective High School students about their 2017 documentary The Staging Post at the high school assembly on Wednesday, June 20th.
Jolyon and Muzafar were invited to talk about their film by year 11 students Sophia Hadjimichael from the school’s Social Justice Club and Armish Falsal from the Amnesty club. The Social Justice Club and the Amnesty Club are both very active and organised for the The Staging Post to be screened at the school library throughout national refugee week.
The film was made when Jolyon was living in Indonesiain 2013, when Australia instigated boat turn-backs under Operation Sovereign Borders.
‘At the time’, Jolyon said, ‘I thought to myself, “I’ve never, ever in my life met a refugee”’.
Jolyon rented a car and drove from Jakarta to Cisarua, avillage just south of Jakarta. Cisarua is known as the staging post for boats embarking for Christmas Island in Australia. Jolyon wanted to ‘find out where the refugees were, who they were and what they were doing.’
Almost as soon as he arrived in Cisarua Jolyon met Muzafar and fellow Hazara refugee and filmmaker Khadim Dai. Jolyon asked the two men ‘all the stupid questions, where do you come from? Are you going to get on a boat? How do you get money?’
Jolyon said ‘they answered all these questions very openly and we made friends that day and through Muzafar’s photography and Khadim’s films on his mobile phone we decided to make a film together.’
The Staging Post is the result of this collaboration. The film follows Muzafar, his wife Nagina, Khadim and a small group of refugees stuck in Cisarua and facing many years in limbo. The centre of the film is the community they built through establishing a refugee led school.
School Principal Mark Long warmly welcomed his guests and encouraged his students to ‘watch and engage with the film and deeply understand the circumstances of the documentary’.
Sophia Hadjimichael and Armish Falsal introduced Jolyon and Muzafar to the assembly describing the film as an ‘inspiring story of refugees in Indonesia’.
Jolyon thanked the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group and Penrith Selective High School for helping to organise the event, saying he ‘was very excited to share this story’.
He pointed out that there are currently 24 million unsettled refugees across the globe. The US takes half its yearly capacity and Europe can’t take anymore which leaves Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Currently Australia accepts very few refugees from Indonesia but Jolyon say he doesn’t want to engage with the politics too much. For him, the main focus is in helping the refugees in transit until the ‘wars in their countries are over and they can safely return or until they are resettled’.
Muzafar also thanked the students and teachers at the High School and told the students of his life as a Hazara, an ethnic minority that have ‘been persecuted for almost 150 years’. Muzafar worked for the United Nations in Afghanistan but left in 2012 fearing for his life and fled with his family to Pakistan and then arrived by boat in Indonesia.
For Jolyon and Muzafar the film has bigger implications for the global refugee community. Their idea is that refugees can be part of the solution. ‘We go to the UNHCR and say you’ve got 24 million people at your disposal. Don’t think of them as a problem, think of them as an asset,’ said Jolyon.
‘That’s our big goal’ said Jolyon praising Muzafar, ‘There are leaders in these people, like Muzafar, who are interested in refugee agency building. We want to focus on capacity and ability and working in transit with refugees’.
Head of co-curricular studies Antoinetta Marchetta praised Sophia Hadjimichael for her initiative in forming the Social Justice Club at the beginning of 2018. Since the club started it has raised money for organisations like OXFAM and a domestic violence unit in the Penrith Area. Ms Marchetta gave credit to both Sophia Hadjimichael and Armish Falsal, who paired up to bring The Staging Post to the High School for going out of their way ‘to make some commitment to bettering society and looking at social justice issues’.
‘Many of the kids at this school are really socially aware’ said Ms Marchetta. ‘They want these leadership skills and they want to lead these initiatives where student voice has an impact’.
The refugee led school in The Staging Post has now been running for almost six years. It has over 300 students and has inspired 11 other refugee led schools across Indonesia, with over 1800 refugees in Indonesia receiving an education.
DVDs of the documentary were purchased by the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group, using money donated by the Nancy Shelley Bequest Fund and the Blue Mountains Quakers and distributed to 30 high schools in the Hawkesbury, Nepean, Blue Mountains and Lithgow area.