We Are Here!: Delving into the limbo of asylum seeking
by Vitor Pinto
- Alexandra Jansse’s documentary exposes the struggle of political refugees as they mobilise as part of the “We Are Here” movement
The Lampedusa tragedy in late April seems to have irrevocably put the issue of migrants on Europe’s political agenda, but the truth is that the presence of refugees on the continent is not exactly a new topic. Since 2012, the Netherlands has witnessed the emergence of the “We Are Here” movement – and Dutch director Alexandra Jansse was there to follow it as it unfolded: a nerve-wracking rollercoaster ride teetering between hope and fear.
Shot over two years, We Are Here! follows a group of asylum seekers as they jump from one squat to another, without any money, legal status or documents. “Dutch asylum policy is inhumane for undocumented refugees,” Jansse told Cineuropa. “Since 2010, asylum seekers whose applications have been denied but who have not left the country are no longer entitled to shelter or food.”
In a documentary combining an observational style with several talking heads, Jansse has effectively succeeded in capturing the limbo in which refugees become trapped – a limbo that volunteers from NGOs try to make more bearable by supporting them on several levels, including a legal one.
Gaining the trust of some of these asylum seekers was not an easy task: “They were concerned about inaccurate and sensational coverage of their story. They feared penalties for family members left in their war-torn home countries, and they didn’t want to be stigmatised as illegal in Holland,” stated Jansse. “However, life pushed them to be activists. I ended up gaining the trust of most people and truly got close to them over time.”
We Are Here! was produced by Xela Films on a budget of €30,000, and it is now ready to get on board the festival circuit. “When you spot a worthy story, and you have the drive and determination, you can make it work with minimal equipment. Hopefully we have made a film about a local story which has the potential to reach international audiences,” says Jansse. She concludes: “In my eyes, the dignity of man is inviolable, and the Dutch government should shape up its act and set a better example.”