By Sharon Miney
A new Irish documentary focuses a lens on Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis
This week, as Calais’s infamous Jungle refugee camp was being bulldozed with little thought to the fallout for its desperate inhabitants, hundreds of Irish people staged a candlelit vigil outside the Dáil protesting #NotOnOurWatch. The crowd urged the government to #Take200 unaccompanied minors from France and find them safe accommodation in Ireland.
Meanwhile, beleaguered Syrians in Aleppo braced themselves for yet another unmerciful assault; the battle to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS control raged on; Turkey’s post-coup crackdown on its citizens and democratic institutions continued – further making a mockery of March’s EU-Turkey deal – and reports surfaced of Italian authorities torturing refugees arriving from Libya in order to meet EU quotas. How much longer can Europe – and the world – wash its hands of this huge collective humanitarian failure?
A new Irish documentary, Borderland, has set out to examine the myriad causes and spiralling effects of this modern refugee crisis, and calls on the EU and individual governments to uphold international law and basic human decency. Filmmakers Conor Maguire, from Galway, and Paul Webster, from Navan, travelled to the Greek island of Lesvos in March to witness the plight of refugees making the treacherous dinghy crossing from Turkey. There, they spoke to refugees, aid workers, international volunteers and locals to gain a better understanding of this unfolding disaster from the perspective of those compelled to live it and those forced to witness it – all of them with little international support.
Conor says, “We wanted to try to establish context: in terms of the actual scale of the humanitarian challenge, the reason for inaction and the parallels with history, such as the treatment of Jewish refugees during World War II. Then let the viewer decide based on the facts.”
The day they left the island, the controversial and now non-functional EU-Turkey deal came into effect and, from then on, open camps for refugees became closed detention centres. A domino effect of border closures rippled through the ‘Balkan route’ of EU countries, slamming the door shut on the ‘tide’ of refugees.
Conor and Paul, back in Ireland, decided to dig deeper. For the documentary, they interviewed Colm O’Gorman, head of Amnesty International Ireland; Sue Conlan, then CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, and Motasem Ali, a Syrian who was forced to flee the fighting in Damascus and now lives in Dublin, to get their takes on this apparent game of humanitarian ‘not in my back yard’. What resulted was a damning picture of the EU’s failure to act to alleviate the human toll of this crisis and to obey fundamental international laws on the rights of refugees. Sue Conlan, a trained lawyer, put it starkly: “It does call into question what the EU is about – if it came about to avoid another world war, like the one that ended in 1945, then what the hell do we think we are doing?”
The finished documentary – which was entirely crowdfunded – premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh in July and has since been shown at the OFFline Film Festival and IndieCork. It had its Dublin premiere as part of the Design and Violence exhibition in late October – a co-production between the Science Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Borderland urges ordinary people to “amplify the outrage” at the inhuman policies that are being carried out in their name.
As Colm O’Gorman says in the film, “Ordinary people from across Ireland and the EU who are travelling to Lesvos and Greece, who are going to Calais and Dunkirk – who see the human reality of what’s happening there – are disgusted and outraged by it. They’re a huge part of the solution here. But what we have to do collectively is amplify that outrage and make sure that our political leaders have to listen.”
Conor, Paul and Motasem will be guests on Global Village tonight at 7pm on Newstalk, speaking to host Dil Wickremasinghe about what people can do to enact change and show solidarity with refugees. (Update 06/11: You can listen back to the show here, in which Dil said of the documentary, “It should be shown in every school.”)
Watch Borderland the documentary in full here (free to stream; length 26 mins).
Sharon Miney was a researcher on Borderland