Never Come Back!
April 16, 2012
by Kevin Burns
The film’s title is a warning. It’s advice given by a Roma in Hungary to his fellow Roma in Canada who are waiting to hear about their refugee claims. If they are forced to return to Hungary, he warns, they will certainly encounter discrimination and even run the risk of violence from extremists because of their identity.
As the final credits begin to roll, this warning is countered by a statement from a representative of the government of Hungary: “Roma integration is a long term challenge that cannot be solved overnight, but the Government is convinced that the country cannot prosper without the inclusion of the Roma…The Government’s clear position is that private paramilitary organizations are not entitled to enforce the law, and such illegal activities will not be tolerated.”
That’s not the opinion of Dr Vera Messing, the Budapest-based sociologist who has studied this issue and who is interviewed in the documentary. She describes a shift that she has observed in Hungary from a somewhat benign politically correct attitude toward Roma. She is concerned about the emergence of organized anti-Roma militias operating in smaller, mostly rural communities and seemingly without state intervention. Her comments are reinforced by a tense sequence in the documentary shot in Gyöngyöspata, east of Budapest. It shows a rally held in March 2011 by black-clothed and big-booted “Guardists” who have targeted this community with its Roma enclave. They are shown marching through the community to “give them a little scare,” as one of the non-Roma locals observes, and then adds: “It’s time for them to take things a little more seriously.” The “them” is the Roma minority who are forced to watch nervously.
Although Karl Nerenberg’s documentary is about Roma refugee claimants in Canada, to understand their experiences he travelled to Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic for a first-hand glimpse at anti-Roma sentiment. The sequences shot in the Czech Republic are especially menacing. He takes viewers inside once-grand apartment complexes where many Roma live in squalid conditions. The state schools that Roma children attend are essentially segregated “Practical Schools” that offer an education more suited to the “limited education” expectations of the Roma, as one of the teachers suggests. Meanwhile, people on the streets in Brno offer their opinions about Roma: mostly criminal and generally untrustworthy, they say.
Back in Canada in a Toronto classroom and surrounded by students from twenty different countries, a young Roma refugee claimant describes her very different experience of education. “Here it doesn’t matter,” she explains, “They are all my friends.” Her parents are nervously waiting to hear if their refugee application will be successful. The prospect of deportation casts a tense and troubling shadow over their lives.
Never Come Back began as an “in-Canada” project with the filmmaker following the stories of several Roma families from Hungary and the Czech Republic as they try to become permanent residents in Canada. Among the challenging questions raised by the documentary is: how can Canada accept refugees from countries with democratically elected governments? Canada has certainly accepted refugees from such countries in the past. Existing legislation applies the principle that each case is to be judged on its merit. Proposed legislation before Parliament (Bill C31) is introducing a more restrictive approach to Canada’s immigration and refugee determination practices. For instance, it proposes to designate countries from which Canada should not accept refugee claims. Almost certainly the Czech Republic and Hungary are to be among those countries.
In that regard, Nerenberg’s documentary is timely and it also explains why so many people had to be turned away from a recent full-house screening of the film at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. The film was followed by a lengthy question and answer period with an audience that was clearly engaged by the questions raised in the documentary. “It’s a hot issue,” explains Nerenberg, “but it’s not an advocacy piece. I wanted to tell a story. I wasn’t looking for examples of criminality in the Roma community and I wasn’t deliberately avoiding them. But stereotypes last. And they are wrong.”
Never Come Back is a thoughtful film about a suddenly topical issue. In the course of the documentary we see some of the Roma claimants in Canada receive some surprising decisions. There are many tears. And some claims remain unsettled as the credits roll.
Never Come Back screens across Canada on Omni Television on May 6, 2012 at 9.00 p.m. Eastern and 10.00 p.m. Pacific time. The Hungarian language version of Never Come Back, narrated by Anna Varga-Toth, airs on May 13 at the same times.
Never Come Back is directed by Malcolm Hamilton and Karl Nerenberg and was produced for Omni Television by Nerenberg-Plaine Media Production.