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Former Berlinale award winner seeks German asylum

Nazif Mujic is back in the limelight. Sporting a well-tailored suit, his arrival on the red carpet of the 2014 Berlinale Film Festival prompts a flurry of flashing cameras.

The situation is reminiscent of last year’s event, where Majic — a Bosnian national of Roma origin – was honoured as best actor for playing himself in the Bosnian drama An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker.

In the film, Majic plays the head of an impoverished Roma family (represented by his own wife and children) who tries to save his wife after a miscarriage. The critical drama made waves on the international film festival circuit.

But this year is different. Mujic’s life is no longer being documented on camera. Three months ago, the 40-year-old decided to leave Bosnia for the German capital — family in tow —in a bid to gain a residence permit.

He is one of thousands of Roma families leaving their homes in southern and eastern Europe to seek asylum in Germany. Sadly, he is also one of many whose applications are denied. Bosnia is considered a so-called “safe third country” in which conditions are stable enough to justify rejecting bids for asylum.

The Berlinale’s organisers have invited Majic to attend the festival despite the fact that he is now facing deportation. The invitation is a part of an effort to help Mujic to relaunch his asylum bid. Not only have the festival’s organisers hired a lawyer for Mujic, they have launched a PR campaign on his behalf.

“We are like a family. If someone is having difficulties, we help,” says programme director Thomas Hailer.

The asylum campaign is unprecedented — never before have film festival organisers become active in shaping their protigis’ lives. Mujic is being bold in front of the cameras, telling anyone who will listen that he has no intention of going back to Bosnia.

Only Mujic’s gap-toothed smile sets him apart from the other well-dressed festival goers. A small man in his early forties, Mujic does not shy away from the cameras. “I would do any job in Germany,” he says. “I would even give my award back if it meant being able to stay (in the country).”

Since arriving in Germany, Mujic and his family have been staying in an asylum seekers’ home. He decided to remove his children — the youngest of whom he named after the film’s director Danis Tanovic — from school in Bosnia in order to pursue a better life for them in Germany.

During his stint as a guest of the Berlin Film Festival, Mujic has been invited to stay at a luxury hotel at the capital’s Potsdamer Platz. Arriving at the hotel “was wonderful, like walking on air”, says Mujic, who speaks neither German nor English.

Next week, the Berlinale will come to an end. And as the furore surrounding the event dies down, Mujic will have to return to his life as an asylum seeker. His lawyer has filed a petition with the immigration authorities in an attempt to expedite the process.

If the petition fails, however, Mujic has no plans to give up — he will simply have to find a different country to call home.