Like it or not, migrants are coming, says maker of One World film No Man is an Island


The Belgian film No Man is an Island opened the One World festival of human rights documentaries in Prague earlier this week. The film maps the fates of two young migrants – one from Ghana, the other from Tunisia – who have been taken in by locals on the Italian island of Lampedusa, which for a long time was at the forefront of the migration crisis in Europe. I discussed the theme of No Man is an Island – and the limbo-like existence of its protagonists – with director Tim De Keersmaecker.

“For me, Lampedusa is a bit of a metaphor for Europe, in the sense that you have people who are pro-refugees and contra-refugees.

“You could say that these two guys were lucky that they got adopted and are being taken care of by these families.

“But what I wanted to show with the film is that can’t stay with just a rooftop over their heads, food, work – a lot more is needed to make this kind of thing work.

“It’s actually a plea for communication. At the end of the day what these guys really want is that people talk to them as normal human beings, as one of them.”

Lampedusa, photo: Luca Siragusa, CC BY 2.0
Lampedusa has for a long time been at the frontline of migration crisis – and before a lot of what we’ve seen in the last year or so. What are conditions there like?

“That’s also what media coverage did at a certain point – the perception of Lampedusa has always been that it is overflowing with migrants. But that’s actually not the case.

“Lampedusa is a transit island, which means that boats used to arrive there – now they arrive at sea, but they used to arrive there.

“These people get on a bus. They get to the detention centre and by law they should be transported within 24 hours to the mainland. From there they are dispatched.

No Man is an Island, photo: YouTube
“What you basically see in Lampedusa is not spectacular. You see boats arriving and you get a glimpse of it, but that’s mainly it.

“There are only a couple of people [migrants] who are actually staying there or living there.”

Frankly before I saw your film I expected Lampedusa would be like one big camp.

Lampedusa, photo: Sara Prestianni, CC BY 2.0
“Yeah – and it is not one big camp.

“Now because of the operations with Europe, the Italian state and Frontex, boats are entered at sea and the people immediately get transported to Sicily. From there they are dispatched to other camps in the whole of Italy.

“So at this point Lampedusa is actually not that spectacular. At least it’s not what the media are trying to sell to people.

“Therefore I also wanted to show somehow that this is maybe the real deal. That this is maybe what’s really happening.”

Tim De Keersmaecker, photo: Ian Willoughby
Even as we speak, EU leaders are meeting to discuss how to stem the incredible flow of migrants into Europe. I know it’s a very big question but what do you see as any kind of way forward?

“We should somehow try to leave cold bureaucracy behind. Because whether you like it or not, people are going to move from A to B.

“As long as the Middle East is on fire, so to speak, and as long as problems in Africa are not solved, it’s going to happen again and again.

No Man is an Island, photo: YouTube
“So I think we should more about what we’re going to do with them here.

“We’re democracies and we fought hard for that, so it’s our duty to find a solution to it. I don’t think that building walls on the border or pushback policies are solutions to that.

“Of course, I’m not naive. What is happening in Syria is kind of a world war but on a very small area. It’s very complicated. Nobody really knows well what’s going on there. And it’s spreading.

“So I think it’s up to world leaders to really think about what our future will look like.

“But it’s going to be mixed. You can’t just say that the world is globalised on the economic level and then try to close doors when it’s about people. It doesn’t work like that.”