Heart’s in land of hope

A Burmese Karen refugee at school in Nhill. Picture: BARAT ALI BATOOR

By CAM LUCADOU-WELLS

PHOTOJOURNALIST Barat Ali Batoor, who has chronicled hot-spots in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was surprised by what he found in, of all places, Nhill.
In a matter of days, Batoor immersed himself into the world of a Burmese Karen refugee community that has injected “new life” into the rural town.
He captured portraits of refugees settling with success – farming vegetables, toiling in a duck factory, learning at school and “the most colourful citizenship ceremony I’ve seen”.
“I was thinking it would be a new community struggling to find work but I was surprised to see they’re doing very great.
“They’re a very important part of the Nhill community and were warmly welcomed.”
Batoor said 70 of the refugees were in full-time work as well as more employed as rangers at Werribee Mansion.
Batoor’s works are part of settlement agency AMES’s 2015 Heartlands photographic exhibition Seeking Safety which opens in Dandenong on 6 August.
It also features images of refugees captured by Abdul Ibrahim, Conor Ashleigh and Andy Drewitt.
Batoor has recently returned from Pakistan where he has been shooting a documentary retracing his extraordinary journey from Afghanistan as a refugee.
“It is a hard and dangerous journey. I’m finding some other stories, meeting many people affected by terrorism and bomb blasts.”
In 2012 Batoor fled for his life from Afghanistan after bravely exposing the under-reported prostitution of ‘dancing boys’ by the nation’s warlords in an artfully-shot picture essay.
Other photo essays have documented the Hazara community in Dandenong, a Red Cross program for amputees in Afghanistan, the monstrous 2010 floods in Pakistan and local reaction to Osama Bin Laden’s assassination outside his formerly secret compound.
He also took Walkely-winning photos of his treacherous epic journey through south-east Asia, including an aborted trip to Christmas Island in a sinking boat and an escape from an Indonesian detention centre.
He plans to complete the project with a trip to Indonesia this year.
AMES chief executive Cath Scarth said the exhibition aimed to create a “conversation about our perceptions of refugees”.
“I think it should remind people that many of us living here in Australia, at some point, came from somewhere else,” he said.
The exhibition is at Walker Street Gallery on the corner of Walker and Robinson streets, Dandenong, from 6 to 31 August.

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