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New film explores the asylum seeker experience

17 May 20210 comments

A new film paints a staggeringly poignant picture of what it’s like to be an asylum seeker whose future is uncertain and whose recent past is mostly trauma.

‘Limbo’, written and directed by UK filmmaker Ben Sharrock explores the life of Syrian refugee Omar, who can’t go back to his homeland, which is still in the grip of civil conflict; and, who doesn’t know what the future holds.

The film is set on a tiny unnamed Scottish island with a tiny population. Omar, played by Egyptian-British actor Amir El-Masry, is waiting on his asylum claim. Whether or not it is approved will affect the rest of his life.

He keeps in touch with his parents, who are now living in Turkey, over the phone, while his estranged brother remained in Syria to fight in the war.

Although viewers never see his family apart from a couple of brief flashbacks, the film depicts their relationships – filled with worry, tension and love.

Life on the island is dull and Omar spends most of his time with Farhad, played by Vikash Bhai, an asylum seeker from Afghanistan who has been living on the island for 34 months; and also Abedi (Kwabena Ansah) and Wasef (Ola Orebiyi), who hail from Nigeria and Ghana. 

The war in Syria is a decade old and suffering and weariness it has brought the country’s citizens is evident through the film. But its main focus isn’t the war itself as much as the lasting effects it has had on Omar and his family.

The film captures the despair and isolation Omar feels as it explores the emotional damage, exhaustion and emptiness being without a home can wreak.

Omar interacts with Scottish people very little and film plays on how foreign Scotland is to Omar as he is to its people.

‘Limbo’ captures the nuances of the feeling of having your future decided by strangers who have never met you. It intimately explores the bleak experience at every turn – with the island landscape a metaphor for Omar’s predicament.

Everything in the film has meaning. Omar’s conversations with his mother probe his emotional circumstances and audiences can read into his frustration with his brother, his sadness, and perhaps his feelings of inadequacy knowing he cannot financially provide for his parents, who are struggling.

Omar carries an oud; a musical instrument the only remnant of his home and life as a musician.

Despite the emotional geographic desolation, the film is full of humour.

Omar and his friends watch the US TV show Friends to pass the time while Abedi and Wasef argue about what Rachel really meant when she told Ross they were on a break is just one example.

But ultimately, the film is about loneliness and the reality of seeking asylum. Omar is in a state of limbo that it seems will never end. He is no longer in Syria and not accepted in Scotland. Unable to either move forward or go back, Limbo captures the plight of millions around the world in a compelling and poignant way.’