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No Child Left Behind?

April 17, 2014
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margreth-olin-2In 2012, Norwegian filmmaker Margreth Olin released a new documentary. “Nowhere Home” follows the stories of several teenage boys, all lone child asylum seekers, who fled to Norway to escape their war-torn countries. They all thought that making this journey would be their salvation; that Norway, in the “enlightened” West, would take them in her arms and act as the mother of which those children had all been cruelly deprived. They all made treacherous journeys, unaccompanied, only to find that the West was not quite as welcoming as it promised to be.

As the documentary begins, we meet Goli, a hardened youth from Kurdistan who had fled to Norway two years prior to escape from his home, in which his stepfather regularly abused him and threated his life. Like most of the boys in the film, Goli gets deported once he turns 18. Goli, however, is determined. He feels like he has absolutely nothing to lose, so he risks making his way back. He is arrested for stabbing another boy, is deprived psychological care, and is deported once again.

 
Then we meet two brothers, Hasan and Husein, who fled Iraq after their entire family was brutally killed. Husein, a year younger than Hasan, had been stabbed in the stomach with a bayonet when he was 12 and bNowhere Home Husein 1ecame paralyzed. In Norway, he  moves back and forth between the refuge centre and the hospital, not being administered proper care. From the first time we meet him, Husein says he had lost hope a long time ago. Hasan, however, is more optimistic. He has to be, for his brother’s sake. He visits with Husein in the hospital for 4-5 hours a day and tries to help his brother exercise. Hasan has to take care of his only brother, the only family he has left. Towards the end of the documentary, Hasan calls Olin, enthralled, saying that he spoke with an official on the phone who told him that he and his brother will most likely be allowed to stay in Norway after they turn 18. Olin gently warns him that without official paperwork, nothing is certain. By the end, we find out that the two boys’ lives are still in limbo. They are still denied residence permits and the right to go to school. By the end, Hasan still lovingly looks after his brother, but he has lost all hope.

 
Finally, there is Khalid, a boy of 17 who fled Afghanistan to escape from a sure death. He smiles often, but his smiles are not happy ones. He feels completeNowhere Homely alone, hanging in limbo along with the other boys in his refuge centre, dreading the decision of the Norwegian government concerning his appeal for residence. He plays the Playstation often—the only time he gets to be in control. When we first see him he wonders, “Who can we shout to?” When Hasan and Husein learn that they might be granted permission to stay in Norway on the basis of protection of human rights, Khalid thinks, “So, are [the rest of us] not human?” The boys are all alone, and the Norwegian state waits for them to reach their 18th birthdays so they can be “legally” disposed of. When that day comes for Khalid, he celebrates by sharing a cake with his friends. Then he receives his present from the Norwegian state: a final denial of his appeal. “Game over,” he says.

 
“Nowhere Home” brings to light a crucial problem in the West—that of the protection of child asylum seekers’ lives. It shows how even the most advanced countries in the world can still be so backward in their treatment of foreigners, even when those foreigners are children. This problem extends far beyond lone child asylum seekers, and is deeply intertwined with the West’s (often) veiled racism and xenophobia.

 
Olin’s documentary was filmed right after Anders Breivik, a white Christian Norwegian male, blew up the Prime Minister’s building in Oslo and then opened fire on a youth camp, killing 77 (most of them teenagers) and injuring 200. Breivik was sentenced to 21 years in prison, in a 3-cell suite fully equipped with exercise equipment, a television, and a laptop. The young boys in “Nowhere Home” each had a small room, an almost inexistent allowance, and were given the death sentence—deportation back to countries in which they no longer had any support system and in which they would most likely be killed; deportation to the same countries in which much of the conflict had been caused or exacerbated by Western interference.

 
Breivik was deprived of only 21 years; the lone child asylum seekers were deprived of their lives. In the context of the ever-growing nationalism and xenophobia all over the West, this situation only hopes to get worse. If even those countries that are the most advanced and proclaim moral superiority still choose, in the 21st century, to not uphold the basic human rights of those whom they claim to want to save, what hope is there for those more “backward” countries to which the West has offered its moral guidance?

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