What Happens when You Try to do a Performance about Migration in a EU Country when Most Members of the Ensemble are from Outside the EU
Jul 3, 2015 — We’re bitterly disappointed that the refusal of the visit visas for the Georgian group has not been overturned. These are talented performers and theatre makers who would have made a most distinctive contribution to FLARE15, as well as benefiting from being a part of the international community of artists that Flare is bringing together. The fact is that we have been denied the chance to host some great new artists from a country outside the EU, simply because they were unable to prove they have secure financial backgrounds. The removal of the right of appeal for visit visas in 2012 has been interpreted by this Conservative government as removing any chance of considering other ways of assessing what is fair and right in a situation like this.
The amount of support the group attracted, from the government of Georgia and a host of arts organizations in Tblisi to the Arts Council of England and the over 1600 signatories on this petition, proved as much as any financial background information that these are not people set on becoming illegal immigrants.
We are immensely grateful for the wide support that this case attracted, and understand it led to a third review of the facts of the case by the Home Office, which is apparently without precedent.
We are also very pleased that Mareike Wenzel, the group’s Berlin based director will still be joining the 22 other theatre groups and solo artists coming to Flare, and are currently in discussion with her to present a video (possibly Skype) installation based on the piece and the attempt to get it here.
Together with six young Georgian artists (Ana Chaduneli, Tamar Chaduneli, Tamara Gobronidze, Ana Jikia, Gvantsa Jishkariani and Nata Kipiani) I have been invited to create a performance for FLARE15 Festival, in Manchester, UK. Everything had been arranged – flights were reserved, rehearsals were scheduled, the festival announced the program featuring our performance – which is going to deal with the situation of migrants in Western Europe and particularly in the UK – the only thing missing were the visas for the Georgian artists. I myself am in the privileged situation of being able to travel almost everywhere with my German passport, without having to spend hours at embassies, writing down every personal detail about my life, and of course justifying the numbers on my bank statements. So in the end 1000 Euros were paid as application fee for all visas, the most intimate and ridiculous questions answered in the visa application form, a personal interview at a visa office gone through – including the woman conducting the interview mocking the members of the group for their financial situation – finally all documents were sent to the British Embassy in Ankara (that is why a single application instead of 90 Euro costs 200 Euro if applying from Georgia, sending papers is expensive).
We were all aware of the fact that the UK has very strict visa regulations, but we didn’t expect that our performance would become reality even before entering the UK. In the end all we wanted to do is show a performance at a festival that had invited us.
To make it short – all visas were denied on the sole reason that the artists don’t have enough money in their bank accounts. I am not sure what would be considered a sufficient amount, but I suppose the amount that my bank statement is currently showing surely wouldn’t. Still, no one denied me entry into the UK. But a group of artists that has been officially invited to an international theatre festival in Manchester, instead of a visa, got a note in their passports stating that the person checking their visa application is of the opinion that their application is not genuine, and that the intent behind their visa application is to illegally stay in the UK and possibly apply for social benefits. By saying that, they basically criminalized the artists by suggesting that they must be lying. Quote from refusal letter: “…I am not satisfied that you are a genuine visitor to the UK and will leave the UK at the end of your visit or that you have sufficient funds available to cover your costs whilst in the UK without working or accessing public funds…” So what else can you do to prove that the sole intend of your visit is to do a performance at festival, if even a signed statement from the festival doesn’t seem to be credible from the perspective of the visa office?
The festival’s artistic director has been great and has tried to support us in every way possible, calling and writing to everyone possible in order to change the visa decision. So far it has been without success, as the visa office’s only offer is to either file an official appeal which takes six months to one year, or to reapply. Reapplying would also mean again paying a visa fee of altogether more than 1000 Euros. We already paid that sum for the first application, which of course is non-refundable. Even if we were to reapply, we would again send in the same documentation stating that the festival is taking care of everything including making sure everyone leaves the UK afterwards. How is it possible to run an international art festival and work inter-culturally, if everyone outside the European Union first has to prove that they are rich enough in order to be allowed to participate?
I met this group of artists, when I was teaching them performance, and from this a collaboration developed. This kind of collaboration is normally praised in every leaflet published by the EU: collaborating across borders, inter-culturally, connecting people, raising important questions on current issues, etc. But considering the current visa legislations and procedures these terms simply remain empty shells. It is not possible to actually fill these terms with life, because this is actually not desired. We like to talk about freedom, but artists’ freedom from outside the EU stops at the EU borders. How can I teach students in Georgia, showing them possibilities for their artistic career, when I have to inform them about their limitations all the time? How can I initiate an artistic exchange, if in the end that only means that I can travel somewhere on EU funds but I shouldn’t consider inviting artists back? We are living in hypocritical times, when terms like “freedom” and “choice” are abused, while the powers that be constantly deny the fact that these terms have become stand-ins for “restriction” and “privileged selectiveness”.
To be continued…
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