“The camera is like a Kalashnikov.” So says Hassan, a refugee profiled in Exodus: Our Journey to Europe, and it’s hard to argue with his insight.
Shot on the front-line where regular film crews could never access, Exodus follows desperate attempts by people fleeing war, persecution and poverty to reach Europe, by any means possible.
Most of the raw footage is captured by camera phones – and the shaky recordings effectively communicate the dread and disorientation of their dire situations. It also successfully humanises refugees just as political campaigning across the world paints them as an unfortunate, unwelcome mass.
With that in mind, let’s meet some of the refugees risking everything for a better life.
Isra’a and her father, Tarek
“Here is the problem. She [Isra’a] is seeing things that she can’t cope with. I was trying to stop it getting to her on the road. But you can’t avoid it. It’s a heavy burden. And she shares the burden.” - Tarek
In theTurkish port of Izmir, a surprisingly self-assured 11-year-old Isra’a is selling cigarettes on the back-market to help her family pay smugglers the $17,000 [€12,000] to take them in a dinghy across the Mediterranean to Greece. They’re traveling the same dangerous route taken by the young Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, found dead on a Turkish beach in 2015 and captured in an image that provoked widespread compassion for the migrant crisis. “We decided to take the dinghy,” says a terrified Tarek. “But my heart doesn’t feel good about it.” Why are they doing it? Isra’a’s teenage uncle points out they may as well drown at sea as be blown to bits in Damascus.
Upon reaching Greece, Isra’a and Tarek find it overwhelmed by chaos. It’s the start of another heartbreaking phase of their journey. “Our goal is to rest,” says an exhausted Tarek. He’s quickly corrected by Isra’a: “Our goal is to build our life.”
“Anyone can become a refugee, anyone. It’s not something which you choose, it’s something that happens to you.” – Hassan.
Elsewhere on the Mediterranean, 27-year-old Hassan films his over-crowded boat, a dinghy made for 35 but carrying 60, as it capsizes in the middle of the sea. Hassan, a soft-spoken teacher from Damascus, is fleeing imprisonment and torture after protesting against the Assad regime in 2011. He was thrown in jail where his arms and a couple ribs were broken. “Nobody wants to leave their country and risk dying at sea,” he says. “But when it becomes impossible to live in your own country, people will do desperate things.”
“I want to live. I don’t want to stay here ’til I die.” – Anas
Anas is a 24-year-old Syrian teacher, one who styles his hair with a piece of broken mirror. As you can imagine, he has a black sense of humour. Attempting to flee war-ravaged Aleppo for the Turkish border, snipers fire at his ride. “I swear to God, this sniper is rubbish,” he says as shots rain down. Asked if he wants to die before he has left Aleppo, he replies: “Maybe. Who can say what the future holds?”
“I am a refugee, I am just like you, I have a family, I have dreams, I’ve got hopes … I just want a peaceful life away from violence.” – Ahmad.
A Syrian Kurd, Ahmad has left his wife and young family behind in his quest to get to Britain. His plan is to get to the UK and then send for his family, whose hometown is under threat from Daesh/ISIS. Ahmad makes it to the overwhelmed Greek Island of Kos. Later his first attempt to cross the English Channel almost results in suffocating in a flour tanker. “Me and my friends, we spent three full days in the back of that lorry, motionless. And that lorry never moved. Three full days.” But he refuses to give up on getting to Britain.
“The day my father die, I know that it is time for me to take responsibility, no matter what.” – Alaigie
Alaigie’s dreams of becoming an engineer are shattered following his father's death. The 21-year-old needs to earn money to support his family. His plan is to leave Gambia and travel 'the back way' - some 6,000 kilometres – to Italy to find work. His is a dangerous path through Africa via a network of smugglers. He has to deal with thieves, violent border guards and cross the Sahara in an overloaded truck. Instead of getting on a boat as expected, Alaigie is kidnapped, and a ransom is demanded. His family in Gambia struggle to raise the money to pay.
Exodus: Our Journey To Europe airs on SBS Tuesday 22 November.