Imagine being unceremoniously taken to a place that is completely unfamiliar — one where you have no friends, no family and no idea of how to fit in. Then imagine being told that you can’t go home, and that you may be stuck in this alien world forever. While a scenario like this sounds like something that could only exist in a work of fiction, this is the harsh reality for the thousands of people deported to Jamaica from Canada, the United States and Britain every year. Many of these people haven’t seen Jamaica since childhood and, without proper support or reintegration, find themselves in a potentially dangerous situation.
This pressing issue is explored in Home Again, a film by Canadian director Sudz Sutherland. The movie tells the story of three very different people who have been deported to Jamaica, a place they haven’t been to since they were children. As they each attempt to find their own way in an unfamiliar country their paths take them into some of the darkest parts of Kingston, where they face drugs, violence and people who are all too willing to exploit a confused foreigner. When developing these characters Sutherland interviewed people who had gone through this experience in order to ensure the film would be as authentic as possible.
“We went down to Jamaica in 2005 and interviewed over 40 deportees,” explains Sutherland. “These people were living on the street, and a lot of them were drug dependent. We found them through drug rehabilitation programs and by talking to people we found begging, just asking if they were deportees. Talking to them was like looking into a mirror — some of these guys grew up in Scarborough, like I did. These were young people, people from Canada and America and Britain, and they were living on the street in Jamaica, an island that they just don’t know.”
Through these interviews, Sutherland found that people deported to Jamaica went through a wide range of different experiences, which is why he felt it was necessary to have Home Again focus on three characters instead of just one.
“People wanted us to just do one of the stories, to focus on one person,” says Sutherland. “For us, we wanted to have that focus but we also wanted to explore the different facets of the issue. It’s larger than just one person. It’s not happening to just one person. It’s unjust, and it is happening because of policy from not just one government, but many governments. Many different people get caught up in this net.”
In early 2013, Canada’s Bill C-43 passed. This made it so people can now be deported after facing a minimum criminal sentence of six months, which means that many more people are being deported for less serious crimes.
“This is not just happening in Jamaica, this is happening all over,” says Sutherland. “The issue here is something called a travel document — it isn’t a passport or birth certificate, it’s practically nothing. It just serves to get you into the country you’re being deported to. When you get there you may or may not be fingerprinted, then if a friend or family member doesn’t come to pick you up you’re left to walk the streets. You have no home to go to. And with this travel document you can’t establish credit or open a bank account, you need to have some help.”
Sutherland hopes that soon Canada will begin establishing programs to help deportees reintegrate into society in order to prevent people from falling into poverty and violence after arriving in an unfamiliar and often dangerous country. By making Home Again, he aims to start a national conversation about this pressing issue.
“The reason why I feel strongly about this is because it can be a death sentence,” says Sutherland. “This isn’t right, and when you see something that isn’t right you need to speak out about it. It is your duty as a human being.”