Extract from the Independent Asylum Commission's Review of the UK asylum system published on 27th March 2008:
- The Commission has found that the treatment of asylum seekers falls seriously below the standards to be expected of a humane and civilised society.
- The detention of asylum seekers is over-used, oppressive and an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer, and that the detention of children is wholly unjustified.
- Some of those seeking sanctuary, particularly women, children and torture survivors, have additional vulnerabilities that are not being appropriately addressed.
In 1994, I fled Rwanda, due to the civil war and genocide that were taking place. After staying in a refugee camp in Goma (in today's DR Congo) my family and I finally arrived, via Kenya, in Belgium, in November 1994. Despite the severity and media coverage of what had happened in Rwanda, we only got our papers a year and a half later. Because we were a "third country" case: the Immigration Service in Belgium argued we should have asked asylum in Kenya.
In that year and a half we stayed in an asylum seekers' centre; we were allowed to work and study, so nothing like the detention/removal centres in the UK today. I saw fellow asylum seekers coming and going, some being deported, others having their case accepted; others, like us, staying in for months, case pending, for various reasons. At that time, I didn't question the system. The conditions in the centre were acceptable, which, I have found out, can't be said about the removal centres in the UK today... And now, I do question the system: Should asylum seekers be detained at all?
Also, being an asylum seeker carries a social stigma with it, that is very difficult to live with. Everything an asylum seeker says or does is suspicious.
In centres for asylum seekers, the lucky ones receive and befriend visitors. I knew of asylum seekers/refugees who'd married Belgian women they'd met while staying in an asylum seekers' centre. In all cases, suspicions were raised as whether the relationships were genuine or not.
ANNEX, besides raising the awareness on the very existence of detention/removal centres for asylum seekers in the UK, is an attempt to 'humanise' asylum seekers and bring those issues to the open. No clear indication is given to whether Innocent is a real or bogus asylum seeker. Hopefully the audience can see beyond that and relate to this story between a man who's trapped, literally and figuratively, and a woman who loves him and wants to release him. In a way, each wants to "annex" the other, to reach their elusive happiness. "Annex" is also a reference to all the administration and paper work that form the obstacle to their happiness.
ANNEX addresses the sensitive political theme of immigration as well as issues that we all deal with every day, such as friendship, love, prejudice, racism. Therefore I believe ANNEX will be a rewarding experience for those who will work on it, as well as those who will watch it.
As an artist and film maker, my aim is to raise awareness on social-political issues, to provide a voice to the voiceless, to question our prejudices and promote more tolerance towards "the ones that are different". ANNEX is the perfect follow-up to my first and previous film: G54.