Ismail is a Darfur refugee who has a background in engineering who fled the Sudanese civil war when his village was destroyed. When I first met him in Tel Aviv in 2007 he had pieced together a home computer from spare parts of both Apple and Microsoft computers. He later went on to build his own computer business. Not all of the more than a million African and Asian migrants that came to Europe in the past few years may have Ismail’s skills, but surely a fair number do. You would never know that though, based on the submissive and passive migrant characters that populate director Guido Hendrikx’s film.
Hendrikx’s main focus in the film is actually not on the migrants themselves but on the attitude of Europeans towards them. The film is a set in a fictional classroom in Italy where a teacher played by Dutch actor Valentijn Dhaenens confronts about a dozen migrants who want to gain asylum in The Netherlands. The film has a very documentary feel to it, replete with shaky, fuzzy-focus, handheld shots, uneven cuts and no music (except in the transitions). But the film is completely staged, something that is hard to know without reading the publicity material – and potentially quite misleading.
The main part of the film is divided into three acts. In Act 1 Dhaenens plays the role of the European bad guy par excellence. He harangues the migrants about how Europe cannot afford to absorb them, pointing out that it is costing the EU 26,000 Euros per migrant to look after each of them. He even humiliates one of the migrants by having him multiply on the blackboard 26,000 x 11 – the number of migrants in the classroom. Dhaenens reprimands them for not staying in their native land in order to fight for their country’s freedom — the way his father did in World War II. Dhaenens goes on to trap one of the Muslim migrants into inadvertently acknowledging that Muslim immigrants will be more loyal to Muslim religious laws than to European state laws.
it is costing the EU 26,000 Euros per migrant to look after each of them
In Act 2 Dhaenens suddenly becomes the European good guy. He is overcome by the guilt of Europe’s colonial past in which Europeans depleted Africa’s gold and other resources through slave labor. He cites Harvard University and other studies showing that if the borders between Europe and the rest of the world were eliminated the world economy would increase by a staggering 70 percent. He commends the migrants for their courage and describes them as explorers and adventurers.
if the borders between Europe and the rest of the world were eliminated the world economy would increase by a staggering 70 percent
In Act 3 Dhaenens plays the role of the technocrat. He demonstrates how the current EU rules determine whether or not an asylum seeker can gain entry to The Netherlands or not, on the basis of specific criteria devoid of human compassion. So he expels from the classroom the migrants who have already been fingerprinted in Italy – they must remain in Italy as it is their point of entry. He also sends away those who indicate that they have come for mere economic gain. Those who face political oppression, including homosexuals, however, are allowed to stay (in the metaphoric classroom) as they face political oppression.
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