Australian reality TV stars 'shot at by ISIL' in Syria near Turkish border
SYDNEY - Agence France-PresseAustralian public broadcaster SBS on July 28 defended a reality show where participants were shot at by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in Syria as part of a trip retracing refugees' journeys, saying they had extensive security preparations.
SBS is to air the first episode of the three-part series "Go Back to Where You Came From" on July 28 evening, with the programme taking "ordinary Australians" to Syria, Baghdad and Myanmar to expose them to asylum-seekers and refugees' experiences.
In footage released by the broadcaster, three of the six participants are seen running and sheltering behind buildings amid the sound of mortar rounds in Syria.
"Righto, that's rounds coming in. Stay down, OK," said the voice of a person escorting them in the video clip. "Stay down, real low. Stay down below this wall. We don't want them to know we're here. They're just in front of us."
SBS said in promotional material that those taking part were "escorted under security to the Syrian frontlines by Kurdish soldiers as they defend a village under threat by ISIS [ISIL]... and come under fire by nearby ISIS insurgents"
The broadcaster added that safety of the participants and crew was "paramount", after an Australian security consultant reviewed the footage and said there was "substantial risk... with the deployment" and "appropriate controls were not implemented".
The consultant, former army officer Justin Bowden, told the Sydney Morning Herald July 28 the three Australians should have been given helmets in addition to the ballistic vests they were wearing.
SBS said in a statement the group was also accompanied by a private security firm during their Syria trip.
"The situation captured on camera where the group were shot at was not planned, but not unexpected in a war zone," the statement said.
"The armed security team were prepared for an event like this, and quickly took action to move the participants and crew to a safer location."
It added that one crew member chose not to travel to the Syrian frontline after a security briefing. A cameraman was also left behind to reduce the group's size for security reasons.
The documentary series, in its third season and which won an international Emmy for non-scripted entertainment in 2013, previously took people to Afghanistan, Somalia and Indonesia.
One of those taking part in the Syria trip, anti-refugee campaigner Kim Vuga, said the "worst part was going as close as we could and knowing that their bullets could reach us".
"We were told to listen for any whistling sounds coming through the air and that would mean a mortar had been fired. We were told we had 30 seconds to run 100 metres," she told the Herald. "It was surreal."
The programme's executive producer Michael Cordell said in a statement that the makers were trying to "put a human face to a pressing global problem", adding: "We... hope it contributes to an intelligent and informed conversation."
The United Nations said earlier this month that more than four million Syrians have fled the civil war in their country, making them the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation.
Australia currently resettles about 6,000 refugees annually as part of its humanitarian visa programme.
The government has cracked down on asylum-seekers trying to arrive in the island continent by boat, turning back the vessels when possible in military-led operations.
Asylum-seekers that arrive are held on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea and are banned from settling in Australia even if they are found to be genuine refugees.