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Oscar nominates two documentary films portraying the plight of refugees

Fire at Sea by Gianfranco Rossi has been selected in the Documentary category and 4.1 Miles by Daphne Matziaraki has been nominated in the Short Documentary category

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oscar nominated two documentaries portraying refugee crisis, courtesy- VOA

Italy, 19 Feb, 2017: Two documentaries on the plight of refugees off the Italian coast and the Greek coast, respectively, have received Oscar nominations this year.

Fire at Sea by Gianfranco Rossi has been selected in the Documentary category and 4.1 Miles by Daphne Matziaraki has been nominated in the Short Documentary category.

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Rossi’s stunning camera frames the island of Lampedusa as one of the characters in his film. Remote and rather desolate, its rocky shores are forbidding to any who would attempt to swim ashore. But over the past 20 years, this tiny Italian island, 120 kilometers off the Sicilian coast and 70 kilometers off the coast of Tunisia, has become a gateway to Europe for close to half a million refugees from Northern Africa and the Middle East. Twenty-seven thousand people have lost their lives there.

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Constantly searching

The Italian Coast Guard is constantly searching the open sea for makeshift boats overflowing with hundreds of souls, most of them women and children.

Rossi’s documentary captures the drama. In one instance, one member of the Coast Guard receives a desperate call from a woman who is pleading for help. Time is of the essence; if the Coast Guard does not get to them immediately, they will drown.

Rossi’s documentary shows the migrant drama unfolding next to the quiet lives of unassuming islanders.

In an interview with VOA, Rossi said that these two communities, the islanders and the migrants, never meet. He says he wanted to show Lampedusa not only as an actual place of migration but also as a metaphor of what’s happening in the world. “Two forces that barely touch each other, and they never meet,” he says.

Migrants sit outside the immigration center on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa Feb. 19, 2015.

Migrants sit outside the immigration center on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa Feb. 19, 2015.

Samuele is the focus

He centers his film on Samuele, a Sicilian boy living on the island. A professed hunter among seafaring people, Samuele is hunting birds, pointing his imaginary automatic rifle to the skies and shooting unseen enemies, training his expert slingshot on hapless cacti. Rossi likens him to a humanity that has not yet reached maturity. Samuele is exuberant and destructive but also tenacious and introspective when he is called to train his lazy eye by covering the good one.

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“Samuele is a constant metaphor. The little kid is a coming-of-age film, the capacity of this little kid to face life. The anxiety of Samuele is our own anxiety. The wonder of Samuele is our own wondering. The lazy eye of Samuele is our lazy eye.”

Voice of reason

On the other end of the spectrum is a doctor, Bartolo. As the only physician on the island, Bartolo is the person in which the two worlds meet. He examines every single refugee coming to Lampedusa and confirms the dead. Bartolo is the film’s voice of reason and compassion. He decries the indifference of the world toward such humanitarian crises.

“All this leaves you so angry. It leaves you with emptiness in your gut, a hole,” he says.

The refugee crisis is also at the center of Matziaraki’s 4.1 Miles. The film chronicles around-the-clock rescue missions off the Greek island of Lesbos. Kyriakos, a member of the Greek Coast Guard and the main character in the story, says that he and his team are called to rescue 200 people per hour.

Kyriakos a quiet hero

According to the film, in 2015 and 2016, 600,000 migrants crossed the 6.1 kilometers — 4.1 miles — of water between Turkey and Lesbos.

Matziaraki’s documentary is visceral. Often shooting with cameras attached to rescuers’ heads so that we experience the moment-to-moment rescue, she conveys how every second of pulling someone out of the water makes a difference between life and death.

Kyriakos is a modern-day hero, quiet, collected, but also dismayed by what he has witnessed. The camera often closes in on his tired face, describing what we cannot see. 4.1 Miles is also more openly critical than Fire at Sea of the world community that, as the inhabitants of Lesbos say, has abandoned both islanders and refugees.

“I was proposing Lampedusa and Lesbos for the Nobel Prize, you know,” says Rossi during his VOA interview. “These two special islands in the middle of nowhere that welcome migrants from all over the world.”

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Focus on refugees’ ordeal

He has arrived in our Los Angeles studio straight from the airport, after a 17-hour flight from Japan. Talking about the recognition of his film by the Academy, Rossi says, “The idea that we brought the Sea of Lampedusa to the desert of California was an incredible arrival for me because ultimately migration is a transverse tragedy. The Sea of Lampedusa is the desert of California. People here die in the desert as much as people die crossing the water in order to reach freedom.”

Rossi hopes Fire at Sea helps bring awareness about the refugees’ ordeal.

“There is a voice in my film, at a certain point, of migrants. They ask for help: ‘Please help! Help!’ They are dying in the middle of the sea, and the Coast Guard asks, ‘What’s your position? What’s your position?’ This is a very important moment. I wanted to reverse this and have people ask themselves, ‘What’s my position towards this tragedy? Where do I stand?’ This is what I want the film to do.”(VOA)

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Report: Trump Administration to Eliminate Refugee Admissions to Zero in Coming Year

Since the so-called “refugee ceiling” is an upper limit, and not a quota, the government is not required to meet the annual admissions number

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Migrant children sleep on the floor of a shelter in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, July 17, 2019. Asylum-seekers grappled to understand a new U.S. policy that all but eliminates refugee claims by Central Americans and many others. VOA

The Trump administration is considering more dramatic cuts to the U.S. refugee program, with one official suggesting the White House not allow any refugees into the country in the coming fiscal year.

In a Politico report released Thursday, government officials from several federal agencies attended a meeting last week and discussed several options that included a ceiling of 10,000 — well below the current refugee ceiling of 30,000, which is already an all-time low for the program.

The U.S. resettled 23,190 refugees since the beginning of fiscal 2019 last October. With 2½ months remaining until the count resets, the U.S. is on track to fall short of this year’s cap, according to U.S. State Department data.

Since the so-called “refugee ceiling” is an upper limit, and not a quota, the government is not required to meet the annual admissions number.

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Trump repeatedly attempted a ban on refugees with multiple executive orders on travel during his first year in office, citing “national security” concerns. VOA

Multiple figures

Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, one of the primary refugee resettlement nongovernmental organizations in the U.S., said he has heard multiple figures proposed for the coming fiscal year, all well below the program’s historical annual threshold of around 60,000 to 70,000.

In President Barack Obama’s last year two years in office, his administration made a concerted effort to increase the number of admitted refugees, with a particular focus on Syrians fleeing conflict and persecution.

And since the U.S. president is the one who ultimately makes the final decision when it comes to the number of refugee admissions, President Donald Trump has leeway to further reduce the total allowed.

“The president hasn’t made an actual decision, that won’t happen till October. But I suspect they’re testing the waters a bit to see if, in fact, the public will respond to this, and if there will be any public outrage,” Arbeiter told VOA. “So it is a proposed number, it is not a final number, but a number anywhere between zero, and we’ve heard 3,000, 7,000 10,000, but anywhere in that range, what it effectively does is it closes the door on refugees, and effectively constitutes a total ban on refugees.”

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The journey has become more dangerous because of greater reliance by refugees and migrants on smugglers to transport them to the U.S. border. VOA

Earlier ban attempts

Trump repeatedly attempted a ban on refugees with multiple executive orders on travel during his first year in office, citing “national security” concerns. Those worries, however, were not substantiated by data and no scientific study demonstrates a correlation between refugee admissions and elevated crime or security risks.

Each year, the president makes an annual determination, after appropriate consultation with Congress, regarding the refugee admissions ceiling for the following fiscal year. That determination is expected to be made before the start of fiscal 2020 on Oct. 1, 2019.

ALSO READ: Democrats Campaigning on Medicare for All Wrestling With How to Pay for The Dramatic Overhaul

The U.S. State Department is one of the leading agencies involved in the deliberation process with the White House over refugee admissions. In an emailed statement Friday, a spokesperson reiterated the president makes the decision on the ceiling every year “after appropriate consultation with Congress.”

Beyond that, however, the spokesperson said the State Department would “not discuss internal and interagency deliberations or communications involved in such deliberations.” Last year, however, the White House was criticized by members of Congress after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the fiscal 2019 cap would be 30,000, before the legally required meetings with Capitol Hill lawmakers happened. (VOA)