For me as a visual artist it is important to collaborate with people who work in the field and have in depth knowledge of the issue I’m focusing on. So when Katarína Fajnorová from Human Rights League asked me to create a series of videos on statelessness, I immediately knew that I will get an invaluable insight into the everyday experience of stateless persons in Slovakia. After much discussion about the project, and what would be the best way to explain the issue, we decided to interview three individuals (Ibrahim, Ali and Natalia) who epitomized the problems of being stateless through their life stories.
The success of the project was in large part based on the good relationship between Katarína and her clients. Thanks to her previous legal and personal assistance they were open to talk about their experience, including about painful and shocking details of their lives as stateless persons.
The circumstances surrounding their cases helped as well. Ibrahim and Natalia got their permanent residence permit before the start of the work on the project; Ali was granted Slovak citizenship soon after finishing the final video. Interviews with them were therefore very sincere; they showed the true emotions and feelings. Katarína was always present during the interviews. She was also the person who asked them to participate on the project and she knew their stories, the conditions surrounding their legal situation and ongoing proceedings, which made it easier to ask relevant questions. Our questions often focused on the consequences of being stateless on their everyday lives.
Ibrahim, 53 years old, Berber from Morocco
Ibrahim is originally from Morocco, but spent more than two decades living in Slovakia without documents, which carried him from a life on the streets to living in different camps for asylum seekers during his long and unsuccessful process of claiming asylum. He recently got his permanent residence status. Despite his experiences he was always optimistic and he believed in a better future.
“I already feel like a Slovak, a little bit. I have lived here for 22 years.”
Ali, 37 years old, Kurd from Syria
Ali was born in Syria and never had citizenship in his life. I have never met anybody for whom the feeling of belonging to a country meant so much. Although he seemed to make everything possible and quickly adapted to a new country after moving to Slovakia (he learned the language, found a job, had a partner and wanted to get married and start a family), his application was rejected because his income was deemed too low.
“That’s the worst thing that can happen to a person, to not have citizenship; to be stateless”
Natalia, 43 years old, from former Soviet Union
The most difficult interview to organise was with Natalia, but it turned out to be crucial for our project because of the strong impact her story had on all of us. Natalia had trust in Katarina, which helped us to lead the conversation with her very openly and sincerely. I was very surprised she decided to share her story, because of the many painful moments and the appalling situation she experienced while living in Slovakia.
“Well it wasn’t a good life, (…) it wasn’t the life I used to imagine”
After finishing all the interviews I edited the recorded material to three short video portraits and a synopsis video trailer. In my work I often use animation because it helps me to express sensitive and emotionally difficult situations through drawing. I think it helps to show the delicate topic in more details and with respect for interviewees. In the final version I decided to combine the video sequences of interviewees, which helped the viewer better understand the emotions, with animated sequences of their stories making it more immersive for the audience.
I hope the final videos will help raise awareness about statelessness. I personally didn’t know much about it before starting the project, but given the experience now I think it is really important to promote it among wider public as well as to attract attention of relevant national and EU changemakers.
I am happy that thanks to this work I had a privilege to meet and know three individuals that had to fight for their basic rights for such a long time after arriving to Europe. It’s inspiring and enlightening to all of us to listen to people like them so we can become more responsive towards the injustice happening around us on everyday basis.
One year after…
I was interested to know what had happened to Natalia, Ali and Ibrahim once the project was over and the videos were published and promoted in Slovakia, so I contacted Katarina again to find out.
As already mentioned above, Ali was finally granted Slovak citizenship, after waiting more than three years. He has been working hard to buy his own flat and to get married to his Slovak partner. They are very much in love. I believe that the promotion of the short animated video about Ali helped to influence the authorities to grant him citizenship.
Natalia does not live on the street any more. She has found a regular job and is planning her wedding. Years on the street living in harsh conditions damaged her health. However, now, finally having health insurance she can get necessary health care.
And Ibrahim… he is still living in the centre for homeless people, however now employed there as a maintenance man. He did get his driving license and got his own car. It is an old car, but it is written in his name. He is proud of using it to drive food and other necessary things to the homeless centre.