“The Staging Post” reaches Suffolk students

As millions of individuals and families seek refuge from war torn countries or tyrannical rule, few are lucky enough to embark on a journey that fosters love and support. The documentary film “The Staging Post,” directed by Australian filmmaker Jolyon Hoff, follows the lives of two Afghan Hazara refugees, Muzafar Ali and Khadim Dai. They navigate living in limbo after Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders stopped the boats, forcing them to seek temporary asylum in Indonesia.

Dr. Elizabeth Robinson of the Suffolk Univesrsity sociology department stressed the themes of storytelling, community building and engaging with the human experience during her introduction of the documentary. It was shown to students in the Strategies for Working with Emergent Bilinguals class on Tuesday, October 2, in the Sawyer Building.

Between 2008 and 2013, 51,798 asylum seekers arrived to Australia by boat. On July 9, 2013, the Australian government refused resettlement for any incoming refugees. Those left were to remain offshore, where Cisarua, Indonesia, became their staging post.

“There are no refugees talking for themselves, and that hurts, when you are a refugee.””

— Afghan Hazara refugee Khadim Dai

Hoff explains at the beginning of the film that when he visited Cisarua, he wanted to learn more about the refugees living there. Almost immediately he met Ali, a photographer, and Dai, a filmmaker. Together, they decided to make a documentary.

In 2014, when the film was made, there were about 5,000 refugees in total living in Cisarua. They were denied access to work, education and support. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) did not allow the refugees to form any sort of community or organization, but Ali and Dai set out to change that.

“We wanted to make an organization which can represent refugees, or make a breach between the United Nations, local government, and refugees,” said Dai during a discussion after the film. “There are no refugees talking for themselves, and that hurts, when you are a refugee.”

After much deliberation, the Hazara refugees were allowed to form a community center, which they secretly converted into a school.

The bulk of the film focused on the work of the refugees to build a life for themselves. Desperately wanting to educate their children, the refugees pooled all their money together to assemble a school. Several Hazara women volunteered to teach students and Australian citizens provided them with over 100 pounds of books. The school was named “The Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre.”

What began as an idea sparked a refugee education revolution. The school now currently holds nearly 200 students and has inspired the opening of six other refugee schools in Indonesia. The UNHCR now encourages them to engage in activities, such as hosting holiday celebrations and events within their communities.

By building a community with one another, the Hazara refugees created a home where they never expected to find one and invited the outside world to take a look in.

“Refugees were living scattered like strangers, they were not mixing with each other as a community,” said Ali. “The fear factor has gone within families, within children.”

The end of the film marks an emotional turning point, as Ali and his family are granted resettlement in Australia. Before his departure, the Hazara refugees send him off in a tradition they call “dropping water,” which signifies good luck.

Dai also received a visa and planned to resettle in the U.S.

“I was just here to learn. I remember three, four years before,” said Dai. “When I arrived here, people were just rushing around and trying to get a boat and go. But now, together, we build a community. We build and we achieve.”

After the film, in a question and answer session, Dai discussed plans to start filming the next phase of “The Staging Post,” where they will focus on where the refugees located after resettlement. He also elaborated on his own journey as a refugee filmmaker.

“When I went to Indonesia, I was feeling that I was voiceless. I don’t have any voice, I don’t have any agency,” said Dai. He was motivated to make a film when he realized the lack of refugees speaking on behalf of their own community.

Hoff’s way of inviting viewers to become friends with the Hazara refugees offers a positive perspective on an often negative narrative.

A story of friendship, courage and the power of community, “The Staging Post” brings light to the world of a refugee, and reminds viewers that they are humans, too.