Friday, 24 February 2012

SPECIAL FLIGHT - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Fernand Melgar's powerful feature documentary about Switzerland's systematic racism perpetrated against people of colour who seek political asylum is the opening film of the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) "Human Rights Watch 2012" which feature nine films that tell stories of oppression and corruption from around the globe.

Special Flight (2011) dir. Fernand Melgar


By Greg Klymkiw

There is so much evil in this world that the last place one expects to find it is in Switzerland. This is, after all, a country that has had a long-honoured tradition of peace-building and has remained staunchly neutral in times of war - so much so that the country has not officially been at war since 1815. The country is not only home to innumerable health, human rights and philanthropic organizations, but is the birthplace of the Red Cross.

Based, however, on its record of witch-hunting political refugees living within its borders, rounding them up systematically, incarcerating them in a prison-like detention centre and worst of all, playing horrendous mind games upon these people to get them to willingly leave, I can only conclude that Switzerland is as capable of evil as horrific as the countries that threatened to persecute and/or annihilate these people in the first place and that will do so if and when they are shipped back.

Even worse, is that Switzerland's aggressive actions against political refugees is steeped clearly in racism. The vast majority of these hapless souls are people of colour.

All this said, given Switzerland's less-than-stellar record of harbouring the financial fortunes of corporate criminals and Nazis, perhaps this isn't all surprising.

And frankly, where there is such an over-zealous sense of "neutrality", one will find bureaucracy of the most inhuman and pernicious kind.

For me, Special Flight, is mainly about bureaucracy and how it conducts the dirty work of politicians and other white-collar criminals in a "clean" manner. As always, bureaucracy is all about nest-feathering, doing one's cog-like "duty", providing endless buffer zones to deflect responsibility and keeping one's hands clean. Aside from the clean hands bit, the workings of bureaucracy are like any evil totalitarian regime.

And watching the plight of this group of political refugees is like watching sick, slow, mind-numbing psychological torture - perpetrated by Totalitarians who pretend NOT to be Nazis.

The movie follows the lives of several individuals in Switzerland's Frambois Detention Centre. On the surface, this is a place that adheres to many of the values one normally equates with Switzerland or, for that matter, any reasonable democratic state.

The detainees are treated with relative dignity, they're well-fed, provided clean accommodations, wages for any work they do within the walls of the centre, visitation privileges with family and friends, recreational facilities, sporting and cultural programs and, friendly, humane treatment from the wards of the centre.

But, they are prisoners.

Appallingly, many of these refugees have been peacefully living in Switzerland for years - working, paying taxes, paying national health fees, holding legal drivers' licences and even identity papers. Many of them have married Swiss citizens and had children. They are, for all intents and purposes, fine, productive, law-abiding citizens of the country and only a small minority of them have engaged in aberrant/illicit activities.

They have been rounded up, often "innocently" during minor moving violations and the like, immediately thrown into the detention centre and forced to wait there until they get a hearing before an immigration judge to assess their refugee claims. This takes months to years. They are torn from their homes and families and kept as prisoners of the state.

And I reiterate, they are primarily people of colour.

This is so clearly a racist action.

And it is evil.

Their human rights ARE being violated. They aren't being physically tortured, but the psychological torture is extreme and, I'd argue inhuman.

The film follows one group of detainees. We see their lives in the centre, the burgeoning friendships, their relationships with their wards (guards), visits with family and lawyers, recounting of their individual tales that forced them to leave their countries and move to Switzerland in the first place and their actual trials in immigration court.

Prior to their court hearing, they are counselled to peacefully accept the decision of the court if it doesn't go in their favour. In fact, they are counselled in this manner on numerous occasions before and after court. If they are deported, they do have the right to refuse boarding the plane - however, they must be handcuffed, driven to the airport and taken to the gates. There and only there can they refuse. And even there, they are given more counsel as to why they should cooperate.

And what, pray tell, is the reason they are given to cooperate? Well, if they don't, they will be taken back to the detention centre to wait even longer - not for an appeal, but without warning, to be hauled out of the centre and put on a "special flight".

The "special flight" is not in any way, shape or form special - it's degrading and inhuman - and will, in fact, single these political refugees out to officials in the countries that persecuted them in the first place.

I have not even begun to scratch the surface of this abomination. The film will leave you shattered and demoralized that any of this is going on at all in the "free" world.

What we see, finally, is example upon example of the most ludicrous bureaucracy foisted upon these people and what is especially maddening are how the bureaucrats do their jobs. They are cogs. They have one job and one job only. They will only deal with the job at hand. They will listen to nothing else from their charges unless it specifically relates to the job at hand - which is almost always devoted to booting these people out of a country they've lived in for years.

Special Flight is jaw-droppingly shocking and all the more harrowing as it depicts a form of "polite" persecution and thinly veiled racism.

The nightmare these political refugees find themselves in is to be placed in the care of a system that inspires its bureaucrats to repeat words over and over again that are not too dissimilar to words we've heard from war criminals.

"I have a job to do" is their mantra and it always - ALWAYS! - sounds like those chilling words, "I was only following orders."

"Special Flight" is part of the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) "Human Rights Watch 2012" which feature nine films that tell stories of oppression and corruption from around the globe. It is playing for one show only on Wednesday February 29 at 8:00 PM. For a full list of films, descriptions and to buy tickets, visit the TIFF website HERE.