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  • Published in Television

With mainstream media and politicians keen to scapegoat London Met students and migrants in general Al Jazeera's new documentary series Surprising Europe bucks the trend, finds Mark Tyers

Since the global economic crisis began, many European politicians have been particularly keen to blame migrants for their countries' economic and social woes and mainstream media, such as the BBC, have been eager to give them a platform. David Cameron's support for the UK Border Agency's planned deportation of 2,600 London Met students is just the latest example of such institutional racism.

It is this context which makes Surprising Europe, a nine-part documentary series examining the extraordinary experiences of Europe's approximately 4.6 million African migrants, such refreshing viewing.

Presented by K-Nel, a Kenyan migrant worker turned successful rap artist and entrepreneur, each episode features interviews with a wide array of African migrants and also includes featurettes on the UK border agency's Lorry inspections, small boat crossings and the various other hazards migrants must negotiate in their journey to Europe.

The idea that the oppressed should be allowed to tell their own stories would no doubt be seen as heretical by the reactionary Daily Mail. African migrants are immediately revealed to be human beings with rights, dreams, families and aspirations just like the rest of us.

Stories like that told by Dayo make it abundantly clear that life for immigrants is extremely tough. Dayo is a Nigerian interviewed during his seventh month of captivity in a Maltese detention centre for trying to illegally enter Malta in a small boat crammed with other migrants (2 died during the crossing). This reality is a far cry from the claims of newspapers like the Sun and Daily Mail who would have us believe that immigrants lead lives of luxury funded by the taxpayer.

Strict government legislation and its enforcement by often heavy handed border forces are not the only problems migrant workers face. Ssuna's Europe is a section of the show in which the viewer follows Ssuna Golooba, a Ugandan photo-journalist masquerading as an illegal migrant, in his search for a job and accommodation. In the first episode we see Ssuna being shown around a squalid apartment in Amsterdam by a private landlord who expects him and his companion to pay 200 Euros a week for a flat with a broken shower and windows which are screwed shut.

As well as profit-hungry landlords racism is a major problem too.

“Since 1989, we've had 140 race-motivated murders in Germany,” explains Ade Bantu, a musician and prominent anti-racist activist as he discusses one of the darker sides of African migrants experiences of Europe. During episode 4, numerous other interviewees explain how they've been turned down from jobs and abused in the street simply because they were African.

The show also spends time focusing on the creative output of African artists in their attempts to make sense of the experiences of the African diaspora in Europe. This lyric from SCOR.PI.O, a Dutch rap artist originally from Cameroon catches the mood of the programme:

'Its hard out here / when you illegal

living on the lowest degree/ with the roaches

hopeless / some of my friends are still homeless

problems / we got them, growing in the garden /

open your eyes / the truth will be surprising'

All in all Surprising Europe is an engaging, fast-paced, well produced and attractively shot documentary series. The only thing it fails to do is to examine the deeper roots of racism and the Western colonisation and Imperialism that to this day continues to force so many African's to migrate to Europe in search of better life for themselves and their families.

Perhaps most importantly it should inspire us all in Britain to support the London Met students in their fight against deportation and to campaign against racism both in our workplaces and on the streets.

Surprising Europe is currently being aired on Al Jazeera. It can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Monday: 2230; Tuesday: 0930; Wednesday: 0330; Thursday: 1630. Each episode can also be viewed online.

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