FLEE is beautifully made, a cross-over movie in many ways. This is illustrated by its nomination for Academy Awards in the Best Documentary Feature, Best Animated Feature and Best International Feature Film categories for 2022.
Amin Nawabi is an Afghan citizen, arriving in Denmark as a child after an arduous journey across Asia and northern Europe. His adult self – a successful academic prevaricating about committing to married life with fiancé Kasper – narrates the story, which mixes different styles of animation with live news footage, some disturbingly uncensored, from Afghanistan, Moscow and the seas between Estonia and Scandinavia.
This is a story of loss – of Amin’s once-comfortable Kabul home, his pilot father under the Communist regime – and of the search for a new home following a flight from Afghanistan that was as necessary now as that which took place when the country fell under Taliban control in autumn 2021. En route his family is separated, difficult decisions being taken as to who should join their older brother in Sweden; who should face the risk of crossing the Baltic Sea in an unseaworthy boat. Human traffickers are a fact of life – their fees becoming the sole object for the family as they bide their time in Russia.
The themes the movie tackles have universal resonance – how we are spared the difficult choices Amin and his family must take by a simple accident of birth. From an immigration lawyer’s point of view, however, what rings particularly true are the blurred lines in Amin’s account, the (false) dichotomy of the deserving versus the undeserving refugee. He arrives in Denmark as an unaccompanied child, and his story has been drilled into him by people-smugglers. The story he is primed to give, however, is nowhere near as compelling as the truth: his knowledge from an early age that he was attracted to men – and to Jean Claude van Damme in particular. That as a gay man he would undoubtedly face serious harm if revealed as such in Afghanistan.
Amin’s journey is starkly illustrative of the need for us – as legal representatives – to focus on the account rather than the individual. In the UK the Home Office will often, in refusing asylum, describe someone as ‘not credible’. This misses the very important point that truthful people can tell lies; and the truth can on occasion be more incredible than the lies that mask it.