Simon Barrow

What it means to be designated 'illegal'

By Simon Barrow
August 7, 2013

It has often been said that there ought to be no such thing as an 'illega' human being. Yet this language is used frequently and potently in relation to migration.

Some years ago the UK Conservative politician and employment secretary Norman Tebbitt commended people who, like a member of his own family, "get on their bikes and go and find work".

Yet if you cross a border to gain employment you soon find yourself denounced as an 'economic migrant' and accused of stealing someone else's job – by the same people who accuse you of being feckless if you don't move. It can all seem confused, arbitrary and cruel.

The problem is that debates about migration are often carried out as if what was at stake was a 'numbers' game and a set of abstract statistics. But at the heart, it is surely about vulnerable humanity - which means all of us.

People of faith and people of no religion but good faith have a shared responsibility to begin to see, respond and configure things differently.

The history of Christianity, for example, is unthinkable and untellable without a discourse on migration.

Likewise, most secular, plural and liberal western societies have been built around people movements, both forced and voluntary, or the response to them.

Can we really expect to build a workable local and global environment where money can move in an instant, but the default position is trying to block migration?

These are complex questions, but they start by looking to people and their experiences.

On 8th August 2013, as part of Just Festival in Edinburgh, there is a showing of the powerful film Illégal, by Olivier Masset-Depasse.

The film follows Tania and her 13-year-old son Ivan, two "illegal Russian aliens" living in Belgium. After being denied Belgian permanent residence, Tania deliberately burns her fingers to remove her fingerprints and avoid identification. Tania advises her Belarusian friend Zina to apply for political asylum, since Belarus is considered a dictatorship by Belgians, but Zina seems to dismiss Tania's advice. Much more follows...

There will be a discussion about the issues involved and the role of cinematography in illuminating them after the showing, with Liz Leonard (http://www.lizleonardmedia.com/about/index.html).

8 August 2013 at 18:00 at Edinburgh Filmhouse
Belgium France Luxemburg 2010 • 1h35m
French/English subtitles

Just Festival, also known simply as Just, runs from 2-26 August 2013. It is based at St John's Church (Princes Street and Lothian Road) and some 27 other venues, and combines artistic and performance style events with conversations, talks, films exhibits and other ways of exploring how to live together creatively in a mixed-belief society.

* Full details and booking: http://tinyurl.com/pymuca4

* For more information on Just Festival, visit http://www.justjust.org and http://justfestivalnews.blogspot.com

* Ekklesia is a sponsor of Just Festival. Our news, reporting and comment is aggregated at: www.ekklesia.co.uk/justfestival

* Details of other films in this series: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18746


© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia and a media adviser for the 2013 Just Festival.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.