REVIEW: Welcome to Spain (LFF 2021)
In Seville, a once-famous brothel has become a refugee centre. A place where refugees from all over the world, no matter their reason for leaving their home country, can stay as they learn about Spanish culture and go through the steps to get them the correct papers and eventually a home and a job.
Narrated by director Juan Antonio Moreno, Welcome to Spain does its best to show the hoops refugees have to jump through in the eighteen months it takes for the decision to be made on whether or not a person can stay in the country. Yes, after eighteen months it can be decided that people cannot stay and will instead be sent back to their home country no matter the reason they left. After eighteen months there’s a good chance that they’ll have a home and a job (after six months in Spain the papers they acquire allow them to work) and children will have been in school for over a year. It’s a harsh reality that while refugees can try and make a home for themselves, it can be taken away in a flash.
Those featured in the documentary come from Venezuela, Mali, El Salvador, Libya, Yemen and Morocco, and have come to Spain for different reasons though on the most part it’s either down to war in their home country, or that they wouldn’t be safe there due to being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. You never really learn much about the people featured so it is hard to connect with them. You only get the bare bones of their lives were like before coming to Spain and as there’s seven different families/people being followed in just a 90-minute documentary, you never really see many of their personalities shine through.
Director Juan Antonio Moreno seems to care about the people’s lives he’s following but is also naïve. At one point when he’s talking to Marouane, a young gay man from Morocco, encouraging him to keep looking for jobs as he and his friends struggled to find work too. But as Marouane says, they had parents or friends to fall back on or to live with for free, he doesn’t have anyone and while it can be difficult for anyone to find a job, especially in areas like hospitality, if you have no support at all, it’s almost an impossible task.
It seems like in Welcome to Spain plans on how to film the documentary changed over the filming period. While most of the documentary is a silent observer to what various people in the centre are up to, whether it’s looking for their own apartment or job or how children settle into school, there’s also portions where people sit on a sofa in front of the camera so can easily talk about how they’re finding things. This mostly happens with the Fares family from Libya and nine-year-old Omnia and her family who are from Lebanon. This isn’t consistent though as people change their mind about being included in the documentary or leave the centre for one reason or another.
Due to the documentary style of Welcome to Spain, elements of the Spanish refugee system or the country’s politics aren’t explained to the viewer. It’s from conversations between people and their reactions to certain political parties doing well in the election that you have to infer what kind of parties are becoming prominent in the Spanish government. There are these small hints that some people and politics of Spain might not be so welcoming to refugees (much like it is here in the UK unfortunately) but without knowledge of what these parties stand for and how prominent they are, it’s difficult to see how these elections will affect the people we’re following in Welcome to Spain and future refugees who try and make a home for themselves in Spain.
Welcome to Spain does a good job at humanising refugees, though if you already considered refugees to be human and deserving of a home and opportunities then as a documentary it won’t do much for you. One moment that does stick out though is the game a group of children in the centre are playing. Instead of the children pretending to be doctors or teachers like you’d expect, they instead playout the scenarios they’ve seen with their parents; one is a case worker translating something while another is in the parents’ role, trying to find an apartment big enough for their family. It’s sad, but unsurprising as that’s what these children regularly see and experience.