Refugees who just want to dance

 
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By Ray O’Reilly

An Iranian engineer who is seeking asylum in Europe because he wants to pursue his passion, dancing, would probably be rejected. Should he be?

A scene from Desert Dancer, a fictionalised account of an underground dance company in Iran.

A scene from Desert Dancer, a fictionalised account of Afshin Ghaffarian’s efforts to set up an underground dance company in Iran.

Wednesday  7 October 2015

Watching Reporters on the BBC on Sunday night, the ‘migrant crisis’ took its rightful share of the episode. Scenes of trains, buses, fences and streams of humanity filing purposefully towards their next destination… often unknown even to them.

As usual, the reporter speaks to the would-be migrants, most of whom hope to reach Germany, and then she comes across a young Iranian man described as an engineering student on his way to England. He tells the reporter that he wants to be an entertainer and that he likes dancing, which he says is not possible where he comes from. A group of young Iranians was given suspended sentences for making their own version of Pharrel Williams’s Happy, while others have attempted to flout the ban by forming underground dance troupes.

I’m both amused and saddened by this outlier on the well-trodden path to a better life, to a place that will respect and nurture his dream, his daring to be different. Or will it? The Britain of Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s new Eurosceptical leader, and Nigel Farage, UKIP’s professional naysayer, is not the beacon of openness that it once was.

Corbyn has been careful on migration but he will no doubt have to show his colours eventually, especially if Brexit becomes a reality. And even if the exit campaign fails, the issue won’t go away as “hordes” of migrants “compete for British jobs”, as the diatribe goes.

The Conversation offers some interesting insights into where the new Labour leader might stand: “Corbyn’s support for trade unionism means he is naturally concerned about wages for low-skilled work being undercut by immigration. […] Nonetheless Corbyn has said that the debate on immigration has been ‘poisoned’, and has criticised his party’s weak defence on the issue. He has campaigned on behalf of asylum seekers, and emphasises the important role that mosques have played in supporting refugees. But this all means he sits awkwardly between being suspicious of internationalism while championing migration and multiculturalism.”

As Reporters carries on with stories about the rise of Dengue Fever in India and its spread around the world, my wife and I are clearly both still thinking about the dancing engineer. What comes into my head – maybe I even voice it – is “Good luck with that dream”.  I don’t mean to be facetious about it. I would genuinely love for our societies to be less than purely pragmatic about the way we assess who can and can’t pursue their dream of a better life in Europe.

But the forces playing out seem to be bent on dashing such hopes. The populist “Fortress Europe” leaders pandering to xenophobia. The nimbyism and “I’m-alright-Jack” attitudes in some EU countries – I don’t need to name them – who either can’t or won’t take their share of the responsibility for these unfortunates whose lives have become just the latest stage for EU leaders to prevaricate.

Front and centre

And the latest news from the EU’s border management agency Frontex is that more resources are being put into identification and registration of migrants trying to enter the Union. Is this a good thing?

On the whole … yes it is, as part of a wider reform of the system in line with statements by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker: “It is time we prepare a more fundamental change in the way we deal with asylum applications – and notably the Dublin system that requires that asylum applications be dealt with by the first country of entry.” (The Guardian provides a good summary of the other proposals thrashed out in Brussels last week.)

But it’s probably not such good news for “low-priority” cases that would struggle to meet the convoluted criteria (‘The truth about the migrant’ crisis on Foreign Affairs makes for interesting reading).

The machinery to implement the EU’s new plans – to resettle 22,000 people from outside Europe over the next year and proposal to create emergency measures to relocate a further 120,000 from Italy, Greece and Hungary on top of the 40,000 agreed in May – is now being put in place.

Frontex is calling for an additional 775 agents: 670 screeners, de-briefers and interpreters to be deployed in Italy and Greece, and 105 guards to be stationed at various external land borders.

“Since the beginning of this year over 470,000 migrants arrived in Greece and Italy alone. No country can possibly handle such high migratory pressure at its borders by itself,” commented Fabrice Leggeri, Frontex’s Executive Director. “It is crucial that all those arriving in the EU are properly registered and identified.”

Apparently, the screening officers will help authorities to determine the nationality of the incoming migrants and register them in the system. The more ambiguous title of “de-briefers” is described as someone who gathers information about the activities of smuggling networks.

I wonder how it will all pan out for an engineer who wants to be a celebrity, or the many thousands of hopefuls still lining up at the newly reinforced gates to a new life.

 

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