HRW 2016: The Crossing review

Aptly, migration is one of the major themes explored at the 20th Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London. Photojournalist and filmmaker George Kurian's absorbing documentary The Crossing follows the fortunes of a small group of Syrian refugees who leave Egypt for Europe in an old fishing boat. They are rescued from the sea by sailors aboard an oil tanker who convey them to Genoa. However, their relief and elation swiftly evaporate as they are overwhelmed by the level of bureaucracy that confronts them. They find themselves dispersed to various refugee camps and hostels where they have to wait long, lonely months before being granted asylum in Italy, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Belgium.

Kurian's subjects are all articulate Syrians hoping to work in their European sanctuaries. Rami films their sea journey and arrival in Italy. His friend Nabil is a classically trained oud player and Angela is a TV journalist hoping to reunite with her husband Najib in Paris. As Rami observes early on, they are not pursuing "a better life" but want "just to have a life". The Crossing is an affecting study of those fleeing conflict. Kurian reminds us that hopes and dreams don't diminish when people are forced to leave their homeland, and illuminates some of the harshest problems faced by refugees while trying to build a new life in a foreign world.

Many of those forced to seek sanctuary in Europe are children. Andreas Koefoed's At Home in the World focuses on the lives of five young asylum seekers trying to settle in Denmark. The children are from various countries, including Chechnya and Afghanistan, and are cared for and educated by a group of dedicated teachers at a Red Cross School for refugees. Dorte and her colleagues try to prepare their charges for life in a regular Danish school. Unfortunately some of the pupils are living in limbo, unsure if they will be deported or granted leave to remain. Magomed, for instance, is allowed to stay but a question mark remains over his father's application casting a dark cloud over his life. He is painfully aware that his father will be killed or imprisoned if he is returned to Chechnya. Time and again images of refugee children elicit the most sympathy in today's media and Koefoed capitalises on this.

One cannot help but be moved by the plight of these kids; their confusion, anger and despair. Some have forgotten how to be children. But there's also hope as we watch them master Danish, make cakes, play football and learn how to smile again. Interspersed with the schoolroom scenes are shots of dark woodland reminding us of the perils of the unknown - the forests of fairy tales are traditionally a place of initiation and potential horrors and have a strong association with the unconsciousness (Koefoed underlines the point when Dorte retells the story of Hansel and Gretel). In the film's final credits we learn that the school's funding has been cut. At Home in the World serves to underline the urgent need for governments to spend time and money helping to assimilate traumatised children who may have witnessed unspeakable horrors on their journey to safety and continue to live in uncertainty.

Lucy Popescu


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