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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
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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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Lost and Never Found : UN Experts Find Direct Link Between Enforced Disappearances and Migration, Claim Thousands of Migrants are at a High Risk

While enforced disappearances are widespread, it is not possible to document its scale and scope because the practice is hidden and takes place in secret.

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Enforced disappearances
Migrants line up as they wait to be evacuated from a makeshift street camp, in Paris, France Friday, July 7, 2017. Paris authorities are evacuating some 1,500 migrants from a makeshift street camp as Europe faces an upsurge in new arrivals. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) (VOA)

Geneva, September 14, 2017 : U.N. experts says thousands of migrants are at high risk of enforced disappearance. A special report by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances accuses states and the international community at large of turning a blind eye to the crime, which generally goes unreported and unpunished.

The report, presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, finds a direct link between enforced disappearances and migration. In some cases, it says, individuals may migrate because they may be at risk of enforced disappearance from their own governments or they could be abducted during their journey for political or other reasons.

It explains enforced disappearances can occur when a migrant is in detention or going through a deportation process. It can be a consequence of smuggling or trafficking.

ALSO READ Refugees and Migrant children more vulnerable to Deportation and Exploitation today: UNICEF

While the phenomenon is widespread, the vice chairman of the Working Group on Enforced Disappearance, Bernard Duhaime, told VOA it is not possible to document its scale and scope. That is because the practice is hidden and takes place in secret.

He adds it occurs in almost all parts of the world. For example, he notes cases of enforced disappearances in Libya and among refugees fleeing Syria.

“There are similar instances in South Asia, as well, in particular with the phenomenon of the migration of the Rohingyas. There are also examples documented … migrants crossing through Central America and through Mexico, as well who disappear.… The report refers to networks of traffickers and smugglers in Sudan, Eritrea – in that region, as well,” Duhaime said.

Experts warn the increasingly dangerous routes migrants follow expose them to greater risk of becoming victims of human rights violations, including enforced disappearances.

The report calls on governments to gather all information about people who disappear in or while transiting their countries and to do what they can to locate missing migrants. (VOA)