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Review: Refugees: Who Needs Them? (2012)

Refugees: Who Needs Them? (2012)

Directed by: Miles Rolston | 105 minutes | documentary

Eating herring, Queen’s Day, the Sinterklaas celebration; for native Dutch this is the most normal thing in the world, but for foreign refugees textbook examples of the typical Dutch culture. Fathi, Li Zhu, Fasil, Renuka and Jigme like to delve into our habits and customs. In our country they are free to be who they are and to believe what they want to believe. It is different in their homeland. For the documentary ‘Refugees: Who Needs Them’ (2012), American filmmaker Miles Rolston closely followed the foursome for a year. He lets them discover the Netherlands and shows how they are trying to pick up the thread again in a country that is completely unknown to them. In addition, he has them talk to each other about the reason why they have fled. Because of course you don’t just leave home and hearth.

Fathi, 42, fled his native Libya twenty years ago. General Gaddafi had targeted him because as an amazigh (Berber) he is sometimes too critical of the Arab government. From Morocco he represented the interests of his people for years, until Gaddafi made life impossible for him there too. He ended up in the Netherlands via the UNHCR. Li Zhu (33) was persecuted as a follower of Falun Gong in his homeland China. After serving several years in prison, he decided to flee with his wife and newborn child. They ended up in our country via Thailand, at the invitation of the Dutch government. Li Zhu and his family ended up in Urk. Fasil Yenealem has been fighting for freedom of expression for years. As a critical journalist, he was silenced in his home country Ethiopia. Now he is trying to keep his news channel running from Amsterdam. Brother and sister Jigwe and Renuka spent 19 years in a refugee camp because they were expelled from their homeland Bhutan – a country that promotes happiness – because of their ethnic background. In Limburg they are building a new life with their parents.

At a time when immigration is hotly debated across Europe, Refugees: Who Needs Them? a glimpse into the world of these (political) refugees. People that the Dutch government itself has brought here. “As long as people adapt and try to make something of their lives, they are welcome,” said immigration minister Gerd Leers. The documentary dares to ask critical questions. After all, to what extent have the European countries, which are now raving so much about immigrants, themselves contributed to the situation in countries such as Libya and Ethiopia? Shouldn’t we have intervened when we saw that things were getting out of hand? And if China were not such an important trading partner, would countries like the Netherlands and Germany dare to express harsher criticisms of the violation of human rights? The documentary doesn’t really provide answers, but Roston dares to ask the questions. In addition, he gives the floor to representatives of numerous organizations about the refugee issue. It should be noted, however, that it is mainly advocates who can have their say extensively, to emphasize that we really need refugees and the knowledge and talents they bring with them.

The rather one-sided approach is therefore a point of criticism, as is the messy editing. Certainly in the beginning, the film jumps from one topic to the next, only to settle down somewhat when the individual stories of the five main characters are told. Once the focus is on the refugees themselves, the documentary is a lot calmer for the eyes and ears and therefore more pleasant to watch. Refugees: Who Needs Them was made with the best of intentions and the stories of Fathi, Li Zhu, Fasil, Renuka and Jigwe are gripping. The film is just a bit on the one-sided side and technically this subject deserved more attention.

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