The year was 2015, and the Syrian war was at its peak. Raf’aa, a Syrian mother, is forced into a corner. She flees the country leaving behind her husband Nazem, ill and in a hospital, as well as her two boys, Ahmed and Hamoudi.
The idea was that she would secure asylum in Europe and then send for the others. Her mission was urgent, to say the least. Their village could be captured by ISIS, and meanwhile, bombs were dropping all around. She says in voiceover that if the road to asylum were on fire, she would continue on that path. And although dogged in her goal, things didn’t go according to plans.
Refugee tells the story of the long path to freedom that befell this family, and how it took the better part of two years for them to be reunited. Although they experienced extreme hardships throughout their separation, the family is more fortunate than the many refugees still stuck in limbo.
Raf’aa made it to Germany and wound up in a camp for asylum seekers. But her husband and children were not as successful. By then, Europe was beginning to panic over the unexpected tide of refugees and had second thoughts.
“…how it took the better part of two years for them to be reunited.”
As does for most refugees, their journey began with a dodgy trip across the ocean in a small craft. They were harassed by soldiers, and at one point thought they were going to be shot.
Nazem and the boys remained for months on the Greece-Macedonia border, waiting for permission to move on.
The refugee camp in Greece where they eventually stayed was situated in a desolate area next to a large factory. It smelled awful and teemed with flies. Children played in mud puddles, and they lived in tents that provided few of the comforts of home.
As time melted away, the slow, arduous process of waiting took its toll on the family. The children were often scared and sometimes fell ill. They wanted to be with their mother. Nazem desperately missed his wife.
They were able to communicate with Raf’aa occasionally via Skype, but time was limited. In one sequence we learn that Nazem was a bit taken aback that Raf’aa had stopped wearing her head scarf. In another sequence, Nazem learns that his parents home was hit by a bomb and their whereabouts unknown.
“…to put a human face on the suffering of innocent people caught up in these terrifying events.”
Somehow, the family members manage to hang on, and Nazem was even able to find some part-time work plying his trade as a baker.
The film touches on the rise of German right-wing nationalists espousing an anti-refugee agenda that deepened the challenges facing asylum seekers, and this part of the film suffers a bit from oversimplification. Yes, the hardliners may have pressed the issue first and stoked the fires of resistance. But news coverage indicates that the push-back from the German citizenry is probably more complex than the film suggests. Others besides fanatics seem to have expressed mixed feelings about opening their borders to asylum seekers due to safety concerns, particularly in a country that has had its share of terrorist attacks on the civilian population.
The filmmaker’s mission is to put a human face on the suffering of innocent people caught up in these terrifying events. Refugee does that well. Presenting a thorough and perhaps more troubling picture of the politics and concerns on all sides of the controversy would be an entirely different movie.
Still, this is a credible account of the plight of asylum seekers that ought to open our eyes to the suffering of innocent victims of a brutal war and lend our support to help them.
Refugee (2018) Directed by Alexander J. Farrell. Starring Moustapha Ahmad, Rasha Abousalem, Sophia Glazunova, Ahmed Alali, Raf’aa Alali, Rezan Rasheed, Hamoudi Alali, Nazem Alali, Kabanas Stratis.
8 out of 10 Stars