Cannes Film Festival favorites stand up for migrant children in the EU

The new film “Tori and Lokita”, by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, twice winners of Cannes, is a call to the EU to better protect the most vulnerable: migrant children.

“Tori and Lokita”, one of the 21 films in the running for the Palme d’Or at the festival, recounts the story of two West African children who claim to be siblings to win their asylum application in Belgium.

It shines the spotlight on the European asylum system for minors, which sometimes makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation, violence and the risk of being separated from those they trust. Activists lament that they often lack adequate care and protection, as well as access to health care and education.

“We must give these young exiles the opportunity to study or do an apprenticeship at the same time, and also to learn the languages ​​of the countries that have welcomed them,” said filmmaker Luc Dardenne, 68. AFP.

“They must be able to do this without having the Sword of Damocles hanging over them, which means that at 18 you can be sent back to your country of origin.”

Describe the challenges faced by unaccompanied minors

In the film, Lokita is a teenager who, on the road to Europe, meets Tori, a young boy who was granted asylum in Belgium because he had been accused of “witchcraft” at home.

The film shows many of the challenges faced by young migrants, including extortion by smugglers and a boss who demands sexual favors. The Dardenne brothers, who wrote the film, are known for examining society through the lens of childhood and adolescence.

Jean-Pierre Dardenne, 71, tells AFP that he thought having a cast of non-professional actors would help audiences see the lives of two young migrants who have few defenses against the “cruelty of domination”.

“Their response to this cruelty and violence in the film is their friendship – together they invent their own country.” Despite the hardships they face, “they want to live and have ambitions and hopes and are resourceful and intelligent”.

The rights of migrant children in Europe often ignored

Children like the protagonists of the film are often neglected in terms of child protection in Europe, and although children’s rights and services exist, they are often not properly applied, particularly in the context of the migration.

A EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) 2021 report suggests measures that the EU and its Member States should take to offer better protection to unaccompanied minors in order to ensure that their rights are respected.

The report highlights that most EU Member States only cover the protection of unaccompanied migrant children in their asylum policies rather than in their general child protection systems for children without parental care. This means that children who are not in the asylum system are at greater risk, including children who have had difficulty applying for asylum or those whose application has been rejected.

Even within the asylum system, in cases where a child’s age has not yet been determined, there can be considerable problems in some EU countries: some minors risk being treated as adults until they can prove that they are in fact under 18, for example through dental age assessment. Housing refugee children with adults during this process may put them at greater risk.

The film depicts many of the dangers faced by unaccompanied minors in Europe, especially those who must survive and exist outside of national care and asylum systems. Instead, they have to live in a parallel society without the protection and rights that are supposed to be granted to children in Europe under national, international and European law.

Positive reception at the Cannes Film Festival

The Dardennes’ hyper-realistic, moral-focused films have a solid track record at Cannes, winning top honors in 1999 for “Rosetta” and in 2005 for “L’Enfant.” They also won second place in the Grand Prix in 2011 for “The Kid with a Bike” and best screenplay for “Lorna’s Silence” in 2008.

“Tori and Lokita” received warm reviews after its red carpet premiere, with the British Daily screen saying that the “Dardennes’ empathy is undiminished and their tense, spare suspense sequences remain underrated.”

The The Hollywood Reporter said it was “the Dardennes’ most emotionally gripping film ever.” in a short time – a tragedy told with utter clarity, centered on protagonists entirely deserving of our sympathy.”

The Cannes prizes will be awarded on Saturday.

With AFP

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