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“Stateless”, in the Australian migratory hell

It is a courtyard of red earth, basic barracks and, all around, high fences. A camp in the middle of nowhere – for those who just have nowhere to go. Welcome to Barton Detention Centre, deep in the Australian desert. In the cells, refugees and asylum seekers, Afghans, Sri Lankans or Iraqis, desperately hoping to obtain a visa. And in the middle, Sofie Werner. A 30-year-old Australian imprisoned by mistake.

The scenario of Stateless, a recent Netflix acquisition, seems implausible but is inspired by a true story. That of Cornelia Rau, an Australian air hostess who one day decides to disappear and pass herself off as a German tourist. Arrested by the immigration services, which assimilated her to a foreigner in an irregular situation, Rau will be detained for ten months in a center in her own country, in 2004. Made public, the case will lead to an investigation and a general awareness of Australia’s particularly draconian migration policy.

Sect tunes

Fifteen years later, like a booster shot, that’s also what Stateless wants to provoke, its glaring political aim under the dramatic veneer. We will not be surprised to find at the helm Cate Blanchett, who wears, in addition to her caps of actress and producer, that of goodwill ambassador at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Co-creator of the series, she also plays (good marketing argument), a fleeting but decisive role: that of Pat, guru of an organization with sectarian airs, in tandem with her husband (Dominic West).

Because that’s where everything changes for Cornelia Rau and her on-screen alter ego (played by Yvonne Strahovski, whom fans of The Scarlet Maid will recognize). Psychologically unstable, Sofie finds refuge in this school of personal development with unhealthy methods, which will only destroy her more. The first episode stages the obsession well, then the slide, until the traumatic event which will push Sofie to flee. We find her soon after in the center. But how did she get there?

crooked smugglers

The series intentionally leaves this question open, diluting the flashbacks over the six episodes. But Sofie is only part of the picture. A bit like in the jails ofOrange is the New Black, minus the orange tracksuits and electric humor, his story mingles with those of other residents. Stuck on the same shredded plot, their fates diametrically different.

Read also: “Orange is the New Black”, prison boredom

There is Ameer, an Afghan father who, to flee the Taliban, plans a crossing but finds himself cheated by crooked smugglers. Or Javad, the Iranian determined to taste freedom at all costs. There is also Cam, a nice local guy who accepts a job as a guard in the center, just to offer his wife a little comfort. And finally Claire Kowitz, a politician with long teeth whom the Ministry of Immigration sent into the field, to face crises.

overflowing saucepan

Crises that betray the flaws in the system, its administrative delays, the absurdity and violence of certain procedures. The beautiful media speeches but, behind, the dignity which one confiscates at the same time as the rights – and the swings of the children in the court.

Close to the camera, Stateless plunges unceremoniously into the sweltering center. You could almost feel the moist air, the anguish, the tension rising like a saucepan ready to overflow. “This place can play tricks on you,” summarizes the prison administrator. The series thus avoids the moralizing tone: the “bad guys” are sometimes more lost than those they abuse, each inhabited by their own doubts and contradictions.

Also read: “Eden”, the Europe of migrants told by Arte

Some trajectories are nonetheless predictable. The good guardian slips, the boss feels remorse, revolts break out… It is Sofie, her declining mental health and her ghosts that make up the main plot of Stateless. A questionable choice: why recount the horrors of migration policy through the prism of a white woman? In an interview, Tony Ayres, co-creator of the series, explains: “It was a form of Trojan horse, a strategy: which character could we propose to the public, that they could identify with?”

Without being its face, Sofie has the merit of shedding light on suffering that is still often overlooked – and of exposing our own biases. A necessarily heartbreaking viewing.


“Stateless”mini-series in six 55-minute episodes, available on Netflix.

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