Irish-made film highlights Syrian refugee situation

Fiona McCluskey reports on an Irish perspective on the Syrian refugee crisis.

Borderland, a short Irish-made documentary focusing on Europe’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis, had its Dublin premiere in the Science Gallery recently.

The Dublin-based filmmakers, Conor Maguire and Paul Webster, crowd-sourced about €3,000 and travelled to the Greek island of Lesvos in March 2016 to record the unfolding situation in an open refugee camp run by volunteers.

On 20 March 2016, the day of their return to Ireland, the EU-Turkey deal took effect. The refugee camps were transformed overnight into detention centres, holding migrants until their refugee status is established and requests for asylum are processed. This forced the filmmakers to adjust and update the narrative of the film, turning the lens on the EU response to the refugee crisis and its perceived inadequacies.

Credit: John Rooney

Credit: John Rooney

Borderland details and examines the EU policies dictating the management of migrants reaching European shores from Syria. It also attempts to identify and address the underlying attitudes that have led to this policy-making and to provide insight into the human effect with moving first-hand accounts from asylum seekers forced to settle on European soil.

The documentary also features interviews with Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland Colm O’Gorman and former CEO of the Irish Refugee Council Sue Conlon, who both attended the screening in person and engaged in a discussion with the audience.

Holocaust survivor Eva Sloss, the stepsister of Anne Frank, also gave her perspective on the film. She equated the current mass migration to the plight of the Jewish refugees during World War II.

“Take this kind of injustice personally”

Colm O’Gorman afterwards spoke of the failure of people in the developed world to link the refugees in Greece to the horrific scenes of Syrian bombings and atrocities committed by Islamic State seen on television. This failure is the cause of Europe’s “violent uninterest” in the humanitarian crisis, he said.

Mr O’Gorman also contrasted the allocation of EU spending, with more money assigned to EU border protection than is spent on refugees’ “absolute right and entitlement to come and receive protection”. He labelled the EU’s approach to border protection “obscene”.

Filmmaker Conor Maguire described the difficulties and bureaucracy involved in getting access to the camps and the intimidating, armed military presence meeting the migrants arriving on the Greek shores as “a mission to break solidarity between the people, the press, and citizens who are seeking refuge”.

Since the EU-Turkey deal, there are no independent film crews in the detention centres and therefore no independent witnesses to the conditions and treatment of those detained. It is Mr Maguire’s and Mr Sweeney’s intention to make the film available to Irish schools for screenings. Where possible they will give accompanying talks about their experiences in Lesvos, raising awareness and advising on how to lend support.

Asked to comment on how best the Irish people could make a difference to this ongoing issue, Sue Conlon said: “As far as the Government is concerned, they are not hearing that this is an issue that they need to be addressing.” She stressed that people should get in touch with their local politicians and ask what they are doing to advocate for a greater Irish response.

Colm O’ Gorman advised people to “take this kind of injustice personally” and “amplify the outrage”.

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