Guide to SKOPJE

Asylum seekers dance through the fence

MK

When you hear the words asylum seekers, you immediately think of thousands of people from the Balkans who swamp western European countries, seeking a way out of the severe economic crisis. They are called economic immigrants, and without even considering whether to grant them asylum or not, they are sent back home.

However, among the false asylum seekers there are the ones whose destinies are lost and intertwined with those of economic migrants. There are asylum seekers among them who do not have their own country, stateless persons, or those who due to political affiliation and opinions are in danger and flee from their country trying to find refuge. Many of them have a difficult life while waiting to be transformed from just a number in somebody’s drawer into a name and surname, into a real person with a story to tell.

These people find shelter in strange places.

Such is the case of several refugees and asylum seekers from Chechnya, Georgia, Kurdistan and Burma, whom destiny has led to the Archa Theatre in Prague, the Czech Republic. They are a part of a theatre company “Allstar Refugee” whose members are professional actors, as well as asylum seekers and refugees. They are a proof that an informal group of actors and refugees who have met in refugee camps, can become a project that will attract attention throughout Europe.

Their project “Dance through the fence”, a masterpiece of modern theater, is on the repertoire of Archa Theatre. This extraordinary project breaks the taboos about people without a country.

“Dance through the fence” is a mosaic of five stories which tell the sad, though at times comic fate of asylum seekers. Their stories are told in an intimate conversation between the asylum seekers and the professional actors thus telling the audience about their destiny. Five stories are told at five different locations in Archa Theatre. Each piece lasts about 15 minutes, and you can watch them in random order. There are short breaks of 2-3 minutes when the ” Allstar Refugee” band performs. You get the whole picture of this extraordinary project after seeing all the parts.

Perhaps the most moving story is that of Gugar, a refugee of Armenian descent who lived inGeorgia. Gugar is an artist and a hairdresser who had always dreamed of having his own hair salon.

– I am a musician and I cannot live without music. In my hair salon I will have a little piano. While my clients are having coffee I will play the piano, and then create the desired hairstyles. Giving a haircut is the same as music, it’s an art form – says Gugar.

He had to flee the country because of the hard life and the situation inGeorgia.

– I do not even want to remember those days. I had a gun pointed at my forehead while I was bleeding. Then they cut me with a knife. Here, I have a scar here. – Gugar tells his sad story.

He then went to Armenia, but it wasn’t any better there also, so in 2002 he fled to the Czech Republic. He couldn’t explain the Czech authorities his ethnic background. They asked whether he was Georgian and he would reply in bad Czech language that he is an Armenian from Georgia. He says they didn’t understand what he was saying. He requested permission to stay in the Czech Republic, and during that time he lived in three different refugee camps. It was a hard life, filled with anticipation of the Czech authorities’ decision, whether they would grant him refugee status.

While listening to Gugar’s story another one runs some ten metres away, the one told by the civil servant who collects documents of the asylum seekers. Her workday consists of answering a dozen phone calls, mostly to deal with her own private affairs. She superficially goes through the names and photographs of asylum seekers. To her, they are just numbers, just files that need to be sorted. Their destinies mean nothing to her. On one side there is the civil servant who is more concerned about her private life than the lives of refugees, and on the other, the refugees who count seconds, waiting for a call from her, waiting for her to say that they’ve became asylum seekers.

Back to Gugar, the musician whose passion is cutting hair and keeping pigeons, who is waiting for a call, too. He tells viewers about his obsession with pigeons. In Georgia, where he lived he had dozens of pigeons from the Czech Republic, which, as he says, are the best in the world. He can’t forget them. They are waiting for him in Armenia where he moved after escaping from Georgia.

– The pigeons are now kept by my mother-in-law. She had to cut off a small piece of their wings so they wouldn’t fly home to Georgia. Carrier pigeons always fly back home – says Gugar.

The Armenian from Georgia somehow managed to survive in a country that can hardly be called home. He now has a wife and three children, but as he says, he still dreams of having his own home and a place for his pigeons. – I’d like to bring them here in the Czech Republic, but if it happened I would have to cut their wings. Otherwise they would fly back home in Georgia.

And I will never return, I do not want to go back there – Gugar completes his story.

As the theater curtain slowly descends viewers think about what they used to think when they first heard that someone is an asylum seekers. Don’t get me wrong, but their perception of them has completely changed. If asylum seekers were people without identity, opportunists with no sense of belonging, just figures, now they have become ordinary people, people with a story, musicians, hairdressers, people with hearts that fly as doves fly to their homeland.

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