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29 November 2022

So far so good: On the language of the refugee application 

29 November 2022 - Written by Colin Pantall

 In their earlier book, Here Waiting, Maroussia Prignot and Valerio Alvarez (aka No Sovereign Author) asked who migrants are and examined the process of arriving in Belgium. So far so good is the follow up in which they look at the process that Razan Marji and Joseph Hachmi and their children, Ghassan and Peter, go through as they apply for refugee status. 

 

The book begins with an extract from Razan Marji’s and Joseph Hachmi’s interviews with the agent ‘responsible for processing (their) application for international protection’.

 ‘My role… is to fully understands the reasons why your are asking Belgium for protection…’ reads the text. 

 And so the interviews begin. The book is about those interviews, the language they use, the processes they are part of, the values and the absences of values embedded in those processes. Parallel to that world is a world that uses languages, behaviours, and lives that are human. The two worlds do not meet.

 On to the questions: Razan was born in Jordan, Joseph was born in Lebanon. He has both Lebanese and Syrian nationality. Both Razan and Joseph are Christian. Razan is Catholic. Joseph is asked what denomination she is. “Frankly, I don’t know”, he replies. “How is it that you don’t know?” asks the processing agent. “I’m not interested. I never asked her.”

 

Joseph is of a Chaldean denomination. The church’s name was Raphael. The priest’s name was also Raphael. Razan is asked about the Catholic church. She knows its head is the Pope, she doesn’t know his name, she knows Jesus was born in Palestine, in Bethlehem, and the died at Golgotha, by crucifixion, after being betrayed by Judas. 

 They’re asked about their children, and Peter in particular. He has problems with his heart, and “…he’s very scared. He rolls on the ground, pulls his hair, and screams a lot.”

 “Can you tell me in detail about your fears in Lebanon?” the agent asks. 

 Joseph doesn’t answer. The agent asks again. “Problems for living, financial problems, hospitals for treatment, schools, the unstable situation in the country. Hezbollah is there,” replies Joseph. He’s not answering correctly. It’s not enough.

 

Between the pages of questions, there are photographs. The images taken by No Sovereign Author show Joseph and Razan in their home with their two children. The sit on the sofa, they watch television, there is a sequence of the family looking out of the window. 

 Interspersed with these images are pictures salvaged from a broken phone. These are classic phone pictures to be shared on social media and whatsapp groups. We see weddings, we see christenings, we see life back in Lebanon,  the children laughing for the camera, Razan holding her sons, Joseph performing for the camera. 

 There are photocopies of passport stamps, and blown-up identity pictures, the institutional uses of photography grating against the familial, the social, and the grant-funded uses. 

 

And then things get hazier. No Sovereign Author photograph the family with a long lens through distant windows and a mist-like patina as the family wait for the decision. 

 The decision comes.

 ‘It must be noted that you have not provided sufficient element to consider that there is a well-founded fear of persecution  as defined by the Geneva Convention of July 28, 1951… Based on the information in your file, I note that you cannot be recognized as refugee as defined in article 48/3 of the Aliens Act.’

 And so the book ends, with copies of farewell notes given to Peter by his kindergarten friends he has made; Doume, Clément, Djad, Duckan, Esteban, Ethan, Irina, Youssef, and Kilan wishing him a ‘bonne continuation à toi, Peter.’

  


So far so good Published by Witty Books
16.5x24 cm / 144 pages
500 copies
Soft cover with Swiss binding
Design by Alejandro Acin
Published in November 2022
ISBN: 979-12-80177-19-3
€30

No Sovereign Author is a duo of photographers based in Belgium. Maroussia Prignot (BE, 1981) and Valerio Alvarez (BE, 1976), after a course at the Academy of Fine Arts and at Blank Paper, have been carrying out collective photographic work since 2015. Their collaboration began on the question of migration, and more particularly of the reception of migrants within the Belgian State. Considering that any image is a construction, and not a faithful reproduction of «reality», their approach is integrative. They set up workshops, co-creation actions, trying to collaborate as much as possible with those who make their photographs. Through these different means, No Sovereign Author attempt to adopt a position that does justice to the complexity of the subjects they address, opening the field to questioning, and thus inviting the viewer to take a stand.

 

Colin Pantall is a photographer, writer and lecturer based in Bath, England. His latest book, Sofa Portraits, was published in October 2022. You can order it here.   Follow him on Instagram.

 

Written by

Colin Pantall

Reading time

5 minutes

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