Orwell revisited: a film on asylum detention

Orwell revisited: a film on asylum detention


Written by: Bianca Brigitte Bonomi

The organisations No Borders, the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns and the Manchester Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers have joined forces to produce a very evocative short film exploring the experience of ‘failed’ asylum seekers in detainment.

The promotional video was filmed on location at Dallas Court Enforcement Unit, Salford and involves a group of concerned individuals, asylum seekers and activists, protesting against the conditions and arbitrariness of detention.

The film opens with the words ‘A point of disappearance’ superimposed in white against a black screen and a subsequent shot of a man entering Dallas Court. A female voice articulates that every time asylum seekers pass through those doors, they face the prospect of no return, of indefinite detention, of disappearance. And suddenly, those doors are sinister agents; taking people away, rendering them invisible.

Throughout the film, personal accounts are punctuated by shots of group activity – singing, drumming, protesting – serving as a reminder both of the individual turmoil faced by the asylum seekers and of their shared aim of ending arbitrary and indefinite detention. These personal accounts are diverse, but are underwritten by a common discourse. Their stories are characterised by a fear of the unknown, of that ‘point of disappearance’, of entering a realm in which normality is an alien concept. Some speak of deported relatives who have never again been heard from. An English school headmaster points out the inconsistency of a government which will advise its own citizens against travelling to countries deemed dangerous, but will deport individuals, including children, to such countries. In terms of encouraging ‘failed’ asylum seekers to leave the UK of their own will, he accuses the government of linguistic deceptiveness in employing the word ‘voluntarily’. By withdrawing benefits from asylum seekers and effectively making them destitute, they are being denied basic human rights and are being forced to return home. A feeling of uncertainty pervades the asylum seekers’ statements; a sense that their legal cases are not progressing, that they are unsure as to what the future holds and that the unproductive act of reporting to Dallas Court has become a monotonous and repetitious reminder of a life in stasis. They are forced to arrange their lives around these visits and the camera shots of the grey, uninviting architecture and environment of Dallas Court reinforce the mundane and claustrophobic nature of this way of life.

A woman explains that people are routinely taken from Dallas Court to Manchester Airport, where they are held in a detention ‘suite’. One Zimbabwean describes this holding space in distinctly Orwellian terms, as having ‘artificial everything, no windows and no natural light’. The effect on a human being of an environment characterised by sterility and falsity is complete disorientation, a ‘deliberate’ consequence of detainment, according to the woman. The implication of abuse is ironically undercut by a camera freeze on a banner bearing the slogan: ‘No one is illegal’.

The camera transfers to another woman, who recites a list of alleged injustices enacted in detention centres. She comments that England is the only country in the world to detain children. The camera focuses on a gurgling baby and a mother’s hand collecting spilt crisps from her pram. The juxtaposition of this natural and playful image with the rhetoric of abuse and emotional disturbance articulated by the female protestor is designed to highlight the helplessness of children and the anguish caused to families in detention. A young Zimbabwean man tells the camera that his experience of the UK asylum system has been ‘dehumanising’ and that he has suffered irreparable emotional damage. Earlier this year, 19-year-old Ramazan Kumluca was found dead in Campsfield Removal Centre and Manuel Bravo at Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre. Both of these centres are operated by ‘Global Solutions Limited’, the same company responsible for Dallas Court.

The momentum of the crowd suddenly builds to chants of ‘we are people with dignity’ over the beating of a drum. Banners bearing the word ‘Shame’ are waved by the protestors, directed at Dallas Court, at onlookers, but also at the film’s own audience, serving as a reminder of our responsibility to combat asylum injustices and making for uncomfortable and thought-provoking viewing. A voice reiterates this duty: ‘Nazi Germany happened because good people did nothing’.

The defiant final line of the film, which the producers hope will provide a valuable resource for activists, serves as a poignant reminder of the unified nature of the protestors’ plight, but also of the challenge facing them: ‘The fight will not end until everyone is free’.

Related links

Digital Diaries homepage

Dallas Court Reporting video download page

National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns

NCADC – Dallas Court demonstration

Manchester No Borders

Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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