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A pattern refugee

The Wait. Directed by Emil Langballe

The Wait.
Regissør: Emil Langballe
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Rokhsar Sediqi is 14 years, lives with his family in Denmark and has been waiting for a residence permit for four years. But what could have been an important and humane account of her destiny is jarring.

(PS. This article is machine-translated from Norwegian)

Rokhsar is 14 years when we meet her. With her family, she is waiting for answers to the application for asylum in Denmark, after they fled Afghanistan in 2010. As the youngest of the family, she started school on arrival and learned Danish quickly. Now she is the family spokesperson who contacts Danish immigration authorities and the Danish Refugee Council, takes conversations with lawyer Aage Kramp and interprets for the parents. The institutions do not have the opportunity to provide Rokhsar with information about their case, so they are fighting a continuous battle to find out how it is progressing. Following a negative decision, lawyer Kramp sees an alternative: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, paragraph 9, letter c, which may be relevant due to the unusual circumstances surrounding Rokhsar's rapid and complete integration into Danish society. In addition to the pressure that comes from being the liaison to the authorities, she now also feels that it is her case that will determine the family's future and destiny. Rokhsar follows the Afghan news, and on YouTube she sees the images of Farkhunda Malikzada as an example of what awaits her if she is denied asylum again (Malikzada was beaten to death by a bully after she was falsely accused of burning one Koran). It is a heavy burden to carry for a young person, and it comes to a point where it becomes too much for Rokhsar. She breaks down under the weight of responsibility, demands of the family and uncertainty about her own future.

Sympathetic. The Wait diligently draws attention to the inhuman in having to live in limbo year after year. This is illustrated not only by the endless telephone conversations with refugee organizations, but also by Rokhsar's interaction with his friends. While friends are planning next month's activities, Rokhsar is not even sure if she will be in Denmark the next day. She is constantly seeking comfort from her friends. By the end of the movie, she is 16 – and still waiting.

The film has a very humanistic approach and takes full part with Rokhsar and her family. The authorities are kept at a distance, mostly out of sight and hearing. Despite all the good intentions, there is something uncomfortable about just that. Rokhsar immediately appears sympathetic: a well-integrated, pretty and modern young lady who speaks fluent Danish, has many friends, plays football and is chosen as the player of the year by the local club. It's impossible not to like her. The focus is always on Rokhsar – we get to know very little about the rest of the family, especially the siblings. It's Rokhsar we follow around, and it's her voice over story that reveals the family's past. We hear that the older brother was killed in Afghanistan, and that is why they fled. Gradually, we learn more about the family's escape from Afghanistan; that the family was split for two years and that they were reunited a few years ago. But the camera is almost constantly on Rokhsar, either with others or alone. This could have worked if the idea was to let the audience share her perspective, her lack of information and the awful wait for a decision. But there is also archival material from Afghanistan without relevant context: pictures from the communist period and from journeys over snow-capped mountains. Also, there are shots of landscapes and roads through something similar to a hole. These appear to be attempts to visualize the political circumstances of the time and the flight itself, and in addition Rokhsar's thoughts. But somehow it doesn't work.

She breaks down under the weight of responsibility, demands from the family and uncertainty about her own future.

Unanswered. Rokhsar is not the most expressive type, so it is hard to understand what is going on inside her head. Although she tells us that she sleeps poorly and is very alert, her fainting and suicidal tendencies come as a complete surprise to me. What's going on here?

It seems that the filmmakers in their eagerness to promote a more humane immigration policy have taken this minor asylum seeker and created a story around her where only one single interpretation is allowed: She deserves to stay. But however true the film raises many unanswered questions. What are the other family members doing to promote their cause? We are introduced to older sister Moska and brother Mokhtar, but they and the rest of the siblings remain fairly absent. Who are they and how is the situation for them? Why is Rokhsar the only one integrated? Where are Rokhsar's friends and their families? Sister Moska and her mother learn Danish, and Rokhsar helps them. Why does everything have to fall on her?

Jarring. The unpleasant feeling escalates in the film. It is sentimental, the music constantly stimulates happy and sad feelings, and it is simply not experienced as honest. At the end of The Wait It appears that Rokhsar is on sick leave from school indefinitely, and that she has stopped playing football. Is it because of the wait, or is it a result of the burden the family has put on her shoulders? And one more thing: The pictures on the film's website are not still images from the film, but by Rokhsar in what looks like fashion shoots. I can't help but feel that the young girl is being exploited as a kind of pattern refugee – by her parents because of necessity, but also by the filmmakers, in the good cause.

willemienwsanders@gmail.com
Sanders is a critic, living in Rotterdam.

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