Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Refugees, Asylum, Victims, and Criminals - Danish Style

Last night I watched episode 3 of the second season of the Danish crime show, The Eagle: A Crime Odyssey.  I've mentioned this show here before, so I'll just briefly say it's a procedural centered around a Danish policeman named Hallgrim who is part of an investigative team based out of Copenhagen.  The team handles criminal cases that cross borders - terrorism, money laundering, child trafficking, and so on.  The show ran for three seasons, from 2004 to 2006.

The reason I bring the show up again is because of how striking episode 3 season 2 is in light of all the stuff going on now in the US at the Mexican border.  The episode picks ups with the team trying to find and catch the person who so far this season has been their prime nemesis - an Israeli, with a Swedish mother, who while serving in the Israeli military years ago was brought up on charges, and then convicted, for killing a civilian child.  He has since become a free man again and gone totally bad, helping to run a child prostitution ring with connections to Russia.  Through his Israeli military contacts, he has also arranged for the selling of weapons to different warring factions in the Congo War.  The Eagle doesn't go into too much detail about this war, so it may help to know a little background about it.

This is the Second Congo War, or the African World War as it's been called, that took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1998 to 2003.  The war went virtually unnoticed in the United States, but it's a conflict in which about five million Africans died and a couple more million at least were displaced.  It was a complex war that, besides the Congo, involved Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nambiba, Chad, Libya, Angola, and Sudan.  In The Eagle, the Israeli, Benjamin Stern, has been instrumental in getting Israeli weapons to a particular warlord in the Congo in return for blood diamonds, and at the point the episode picks up, the warlord is paying him to get rid of two people who've sought asylum in Denmark.

The two people are the mother and teenage daughter of a journalist who back in the Congo managed to write articles critical of the warlord. For his efforts, the journalist was imprisoned and tortured.  He was lucky to leave prison alive, and he managed to find safety in Sweden.  His daughter, who grew up without knowing him, was raped during the war. Over a 24 hour period, a unit of 40 soldiers raped her.  Besides the emotional trauma, she has suffered internal injuries that require surgery if she's ever to fully heal.  The mother and daughter, under the organized watch of the Danish authorities, are being housed in a livable facility while the asylum process goes forward, but Hallgrim's team finds out that Stern and a pair he hired have located them. The pair almost kill the mother and daughter but are stopped at the last minute by two members of the team.  

In the meantime, the mother's husband, the journalist, remains in Sweden.  He is essentially hiding there because he's supposed to testify at a coming war crimes tribunal against the warlord.  The mother hasn't seen her husband in years and is trying to find him so they can reunite.  But then comes the twist.  Something the journalist does not say when interviewed by Hallgrim makes Hallgrim suspicious of him, and we understand that the journalist is the warlord masquerading as the journalist.  He is trying to evade justice that way, and if his masquerade works, he will get into Europe and obtain asylum.

That's where the episode ends, and I'll soon get to watching episode four.  I should add that Stern, having failed to eliminate the wife and daughter as the warlord paid him to do, ends the episode dead.  It appears the warlord paid someone to eliminate him and shut him up for good.

Now I'll assume that The Eagle gets into issues that Denmark had to deal with when the show came out - African refugees specifically and people fleeing the Second Congo War.  But does any of this sound familiar?  I found myself straightening up on my couch when the story became one about a parent and her child (in this case a teenager) who are fleeing a country where they aren't safe.  More than unsafe really: they've been brutalized.  They are being held in a facility for refugees, though the facility does look halfway decent (no bars anywhere) and the Danish policy regarding them clearly is not zero tolerance.  But the show does have a character who represents the very danger we are told is supposed to be prevalent down at the Mexican border: the person pretending to be a victim when in fact he's a terrible criminal.  Based on what he did to the Israeli (who got what he deserved, true), I suspect that even if he gets asylum in Europe, the warlord won't become an upstanding citizen.

Different time and different continent, but it's noteworthy how this particular show uses a crime narrative to look at the subject of human migration.  From south to north.  From a very dangerous place to a place that can provide a measure of refuge.  It's a subject, unfortunately, that seems all too timeless and universal. 

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