'Stranger in Paradise': Exposing Europe's Take on Migration

Oct 11, 2017

Europe and the United States are currently trying to figure out how to deal with what’s been called a refugee crisis that has dwarfed all others - people fleeing from North Africa and the Middle East into Europe, trying to end up in Northern Europe or even the United States.

Dutch director Guido Hendrikx explores the power dynamics between Europeans and the migrants that arrive there in his film Stranger in Paradise. The documentary was filmed as a political essay, consisting of a prologue, three acts and an epilogue. 

In Act One, an actor, Valentijn Dhaenens, lectures a classroom full of actual refugees, touching upon fears from the right, including claims that the refugees will choose Sharia law over European law and that migrants will become the majority. 

Hendrikx explains that he was collecting arguments and rhetoric that he heard in Europe. "Our prime minister once said, 'It's like a geographical roulette, so if you were born there it's unlucky, but we can't do anything about it.'"

The second act includes left-leaning perspectives, as the actor explains Europe's colonial past and its affect on the countries from which the refugees are fleeing. The actor creates a diagram that debunks the idea that 1.5 million immigrants will be an economic or social threat to 500 million Europeans. He cites a Harvard study that found opening the world economy would inject $35 trillion into it.

"And it only would work if you would come here, if you would help us out with jobs we don't want to do," actor Dhaenens says in the film. "So it's time Europe admits, 'we need you.'"

Mary Flynn, refugee resettlement program director from Lutheran Social Services, says, "In my job, part of our mission statement is that we help people improve the quality of their lives." She says that the conservative and the liberal acts show the power of words. Flynn adds, "The comments from Act One, the incorrectness, is something that I hear quite a bit."

She says that the third act was compelling because it depicted the way Europe's immigration system is responding to these refugees. "It's so different though [from the system in the United States]. The United States is surrounded by oceans and two very large other countries. So, refugees arrive through a very organized governmental process. And when they do arrive, the US gives them the tools that they need to do well and become self-sufficient and independent."

"[Here, refugees] arrive with full, permanent documented status from day one. Not so in the film," Flynn says. "And that's really what's going on right now in Europe. Many people are fleeing. They don't have that process in place to give people work authorization and permanent housing... so it was very interesting for me to see the film and compare those factors."

The film shows one last time at the Milwaukee Film Festival on Wednesday, October 11 at 8:30 pm at the Oriental Theater.