Syrian twins’ play highlights struggles of refugees in Europe

Published March 26th, 2017 - 10:59 GMT
Ahmad and Mohammad Malas perform their play at the French Institute. (French Embassy in Jordan)
Ahmad and Mohammad Malas perform their play at the French Institute. (French Embassy in Jordan)

In their play "The Two Refugees", Syrian twins Ahmad and Mohammad Malas depict the plight of immigrants in Europe, with the hope that theatre will help in reconstructing Syria once the civil war comes to an end.

The two Malas brothers, 33, are graduates of an acting academy in Syria, with 12 years of experience in writing and performing plays in Arabic.

After their involvement in demonstrations against the Syrian regime, the twins were forced out of their homeland. They lived in Lebanon for a short period of time before moving to Egypt, where they stayed for a year. In 2013, they were granted asylum in France, where they kept working in theatre.

"After spending four years in France, we felt a need to communicate with the French people in their language," Ahmad told The Jordan Times on Wednesday, on the sidelines of their performance at the French Institute, as part of the Francophonie week.  

An adaptation of Slawomir Mrozek's "The Emigrants," the play discusses several issues that all refugees around the world, not only Syrians, can relate to, he said, adding that small hardships, for example in communicating, transporting and receiving assistance, accumulate to make the life of an immigrant "a living hell."

The dark comedy narrates the story of two men, one in his fifties and the other one a 25 year old, living in a basement in Paris. "It exposes a paradox with what the French capital is known for, the city of lights," said Ahmad.

"The two men come from different walks of life: the older is well cultured, and much into art and literature, while the younger one is a popular boxer," explained Ahmad. 

But destiny gathered the two men in this underground room.

"They live the refuge experience together, where they laugh, dream and fight… But their immigration conditions always govern their lives," according to Ahmad.

While immigrating to France has provided the two brothers with a number of positive opportunities, their role as artists entails discussing the negative aspects of their experience, in a hope to improve these shortcomings for others, Mohammad told The Jordan Times.

He cited challenges related to the language barrier, adding that discrimination against immigrants and the "devastating" loneliness in Europe have added to the burden of asylum.

"The play is a condensed narrative of our own experience as immigrants in France, and it also incorporates stories we heard from other people with similar experiences," Mohammad noted.

Looking back at his and his brother's experience, Mohammad said their first year in France was extremely difficult, as they did not speak a word of French, and they did not have any documents on them.

"Even commuting via the metro was a crisis at the beginning," he said, noting that they started taking language courses and were then able to write their play in French.

Although the play showcases hardships facing asylum seekers, it does not seek to encourage the world to address the needs of refugees, but rather the root causes, said Ahmad.

"Art is a magical language that speaks to the mind and the soul… it is a mutual healing experience combining the artist and the spectator," he concluded.

The Francophonie week, which started on March 18th and ends on March 26th, included several performances, movie screenings, musical events, lectures, workshops and competitions.     

French Ambassador to Jordan David Bertolotti said art, and theatre in particular, is "essential because it reminds people that they are human, that they have emotions and that they live by emotions". 

Commenting on the play, he said it is "full of both humour and nostalgia", adding that "the story of the Malas brothers is the universal story of those in exile, one that speaks to many people in Jordan". 

Regarding the Francophonie week, he said he had visited private and public schools in and outside Amman, where Jordanian students learn French, in order to use it in their professional life. 

The visits also included the Jordanian civil defence school, where some firefighters learn French to be able to better serve foreign tourists and residents.

By Dana Al Emam


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