PHOTOESSAY: Refugee migration: Turning the lens on middle Australia.

  • Kasun Ubayasiri Griffith University, Queensland
Keywords: Australia, human rights journalism, photojournalism, photoessay, refugees, refugee migration, visual politics


This non-traditional research paper explores the role of photojournalism and documentary photography in shifting the power dynamic inherent in photographing refugee migrants in Australia—the refugee as an object of photographic scrutiny. It draws on visual politics literature which argues refugees have been subjected to a particular ‘gaze’, where their migration narratives are mediated, mediatised, dissected and weaponised against them in the name of journalistic public accountability in and for the Global North. This photo-documentary praxis project subverts this ‘gaze’ of the Global North and decolonises the power dynamics of the visual politics of refugee migration by turning the lens on middle Australia. Instead of questioning refugees, this project asks what is our moral responsibility to support them? These images are drawn from three years of photographically documenting the Meanjin (Brisbane) community that rallied around and eventually triggered the release of about 120 medevaced refugee men locked up in an urban motel in Brisbane for more than a year in 2020-21. In these images taken outside the detention centre, community members go ‘on the record’ to articulate their motivations for taking a stand—an enduring Fourth Estate record of their social and political stance as active participants within the mediated democratic process of holding power accountable in the refugee migration space. The refugees central to this project have now been released into the community but as they continue to languish in an immigration purgatory, the project is ongoing and continues to manifest through an activist journalism framework, drawing on human rights-based photojournalism practice.


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Author Biography

Kasun Ubayasiri, Griffith University, Queensland

Dr Kasun Ubayasiri is a senior lecturer and programme director of communication and journalism at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia. He is a journalism ethicist and a former Sri Lankan and Australian journalist and documentary photographer. His research examines the role of journalism in human rights including environmental social justice; the role of news media in armed conflict and refugee migration; and media censorship and its impact on democratic accountability.


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How to Cite
Ubayasiri, K. (2023). PHOTOESSAY: Refugee migration: Turning the lens on middle Australia. Pacific Journalism Review : Te Koakoa, 29(1 & 2), 230-249.