Border Force uses online games to prevent Sri Lankan asylum seekers from coming by boat

You can spin, spin, spin but you will never win.

In fact, the wheel of fortune and all low-fi arcade games on an Australian government website created to stop Sri Lanka refugees attempting to reach Australia by ship ends up the same route.
The Australian Border Force says the games help deter Sri Lankans from trying to reach Australia by boat, but refugee advocates disagree. (Australian Border Force)
losing means border force patrols intercept your interactive boat, you get ripped off by smugglers, or your boat is hit by bad weather and thwarted by rough seas.

“Do not destroy your life on purpose,” each game declares at the end, before encouraging another round.

The games have angered some refugee rights advocates who 9news.com.au spoke to.

They claim the gamification and dehumanization of the Australian government fate of refugees is wrong.

The suite of games – inspired by classics like Wheel of Fortune and PacMan – can be found on the Zero Chance website, an Australian government initiative launched in 2019 but recently updated with online games and a short film competition.

John Sugunananthan, a former Tamil refugee who now lives in Melbourne after fleeing Sri Lanka as a young boy with his parents, called the website and games “sad and pathetic”.

“It’s not a game, it’s our life, it’s the life of our children,” Mr Sugunananthan said, explaining why Tamil families like his had left their home in northern Sri Lanka. then in the grip of a bloody 26-year civil war. war.

“Do you have any idea of ​​the suffering that people go through to flee their homeland, where they have lived for generations, where they have made their home?

“To simplify this in a video game is to not understand the desperation of taking huge risks to escape because you think the risk is worth it, because if you stay there you will die.”

He claimed the games and messages on the Border Force website were doomed and would never be seen by refugees planning to travel to Australia by boat.

“They live in refugee camps or have no electricity and have to go out to save themselves.

“This whole concept is inefficient and wastes taxpayers’ money.”

There is no way to win and get to Australia on Border Force interactive computer games.
There is no way to win and get to Australia on Border Force interactive computer games. (Australian Border Force)

Asher Hirsch, policy officer at the Refugee Council of Australia, said the Australian government should devote money and energy to addressing the root causes of refugee migration.

“Games completely trivialize people’s experiences and almost make fun of why people are running away in the first place,” he said.

“If the government thinks people will be won over just by an online game, they don’t understand the root causes.

“A game won’t stop people from running for their lives.”

When contacted by 9news.com.au, a spokesperson for the Australian Border Force did not disclose the cost of the website, except to say “specific campaign costs are confidential”.

Border Force said the interactive games “educate participants about the very real dangers of human trafficking and emphasize the deterrent ‘Zero Chance’ message.”

Stopping smugglers from exploiting men, women and children and preventing loss of life at sea is essential, the spokesperson said.

“The campaign message is simple,” the spokesperson said, “there is no chance of illegal migration to Australia.”

However, Mr Hirsch insisted that Border Force’s campaign focus was “misplaced”.

“These kind of anti-smuggling campaigns completely miss the mark in understanding and acknowledging why people are fleeing the country in the first place,” he said.

“We should seek to develop alternatives for people to flee danger and persecution safely, by increasing our resettlement program and seeking other ways to cooperate with our neighbors in dealing with refugee movements, rather than to focus our own budget and energy on deterrence.”

Vicki Mau, head of migration support programs at the Red Cross, said refugee migration was a complex issue for governments.

Despite messages of ‘illegal migration’ on the Zero Chance site and games, it is not illegal to travel to Australia by boat to seek asylum and protection, she said.

“Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution, including crossing borders without a passport or other documents.”

Border Force told 9news.com.au that their campaign message is simple:
Border Force told 9news.com.au that their campaign message is simple: “there is no chance of illegal migration to Australia”. (Provided)

Tamils, an ethnic group in Sri Lanka, are persecuted because of real or perceived links with the Tamil Tigers, a separatist group fighting for independence in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

The Tamil Tigers fought and lost a long civil war with the Sinhalese majority government.

When the war ended in 2009, there were serious allegations of genocide against Tamils, with claims that up to 100,000 people were killed by government forces.

In 2019, a report by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade downplayed the dangers to Tamils ​​in Sri Lanka.

“Sri Lankans face a low risk of torture on a daily basis,” the report said.

“In the case of persons detained by authorities, DFAT assesses the risk of torture as moderate.

“Where this occurs, some mistreatment may amount to torture. DFAT believes Sri Lankans are at low risk of torture overall.”

Mr Sugunananthan, who is a member of the Tamil Refugee Council in Australia, disputed that assessment.

Last year, the United Nations released a damning report on the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

He found “growing impunity, increasing militarization of government functions, ethno-nationalist rhetoric and intimidation of civil society”.

Last year, the Australian government gifted Sri Lankan police with five aerial drones to help combat maritime human trafficking.

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