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This Powerful Film Is Narrated By Detainees On Manus Island

"Nowhere Line" gives a voice to asylum seekers held in the notorious Australian-run detention centre.

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Nowhere Line opens on a lingering shot of a blood-stained puddle with the sound of heavy rain; the steady, unrelenting type you only hear in the tropics.

Then, the voice of an asylum seeker from inside the Australian-run detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.

"Living on Manus Island is full of mental and physical stress," he begins. "During the last year I lost two of my friends.

"Reza tried so hard to achieve his dream."

It's a powerful start to the short film by British animator Lukas Schrank, narrated by two men currently detained in the notorious offshore processing centre in the pacific.


In conversations with Schrank recorded over the phone, the men tell their stories of how they came to be detained on Manus Island and what they have endured, including their memories of the brutal riots in 2014 that resulted in the death of 23-year-old asylum seeker Reza Berati.

The first man, Behrouz, is an Iranian journalist who fled his country and nearly drowned on a boat headed for Australia.

Lukas Schrank /

"I believe in freedom, human rights and democracy," he says at the start of the film. "I don't believe in any religion or God."

"I seek asylum in Australia which is a free country."


The second man, Omar, tells of a touching moment of initial contact with the Manus Island locals when he first arrived, and handing children food from behind bars.

"These people on Manus Island are really poor people. We were giving them biscuits, drinks, cheese, anything" he said.

But that friendly relationship would soon turn sour. In 2014, locals stormed the compound and beat up detainees. Their stories from that night are a shocking reminder of the violent events that unfolded, and the failure of authorities to protect the people under their care.

The filmmaker Lukas Schrank told BuzzFeed News that the idea for the film started when he saw a comic book distributed by the Department of Immigration designed to deter people from coming to Australia by boat.

An image from the comic distributed by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection

"I had just moved to Australia in 2013 and at first, I didn't know what I was looking at. Then I saw the last line that said something like 'if you go Australia without a visa by boat, you will not make Australia home,' and I realised I was looking at essentially a propaganda comic," he said over the phone from London.

Schrank said the project started off as a graphic novel in response, but then "sort of turned into a film on its own." It was based on 3.5 hours of phone calls with the detainees, as journalists are not allowed to visit the highly-secretive detention compound.

The film was crowdfunded online, and 25% of the money raised went towards sending donations to people on Nauru and Manus Island.

"Their requests were really interesting," recalls Schrank. "They wanted technology and things that allowed people to connect with the rest of the world. They really do have a need to communicate and feel like they're not completely isolated from the rest of the world."

Schrank says he still talks to Omar and Behrouz, who are still at the Manus Island centre. They've been in there for more than two and a half years now.

"It's so weird that their situations haven't changed. I was probably naive in thinking that by the time the film was finished there would be an ending or they would have been resettled somewhere else, but really nothing has changed," he said.

He describes the public debate around asylum seekers and the language used to describe them as "mind numbing", but he hopes that by focusing on the human aspect his film gives a voice to the people who have been silenced.

Nowhere Line has toured the international film circuit and won Best Short Documentary award at the Melbourne International Film Festival, but has now been released online.

He says that's timely, as the migrant crisis in Europe means that the film takes on new meaning.

"It's terrifying that people are now looking to Australia as a model of how to deal with a larger influx of migrants, Australia has become a weird microcosm for an issue becoming increasingly global," he said.

"I hope it's a cautionary tale that shows what the human cost is of using some of these solutions, where we strip people of their human rights to deter others."

You can watch Nowhere Line in full here:

Alexandra Lee is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Alex Lee at

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