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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

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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Refugees’ Entitled To Claim The Right To Asylum in The U.S: U.N.

We believe governments have the right to defend their borders and should do so responsibly.

Refugees, Migrants, Asylum seekers, Trump
Honduran migrant Genesis Belen Mejia Flores, 7, waves an American flag at U.S. border control helicopters flying overhead near the Benito Juarez Sports Center serving as a temporary shelter for Central American migrants, in Tijuana, Mexico. VOA

Asylum seekers at the Mexican border fleeing violence or persecution are entitled to lodge claims in the United States to obtain sanctuary there, U.N.
agencies said in a fresh attempt to shield migrants from tough U.S. immigration policies.

U.N. officials have repeatedly urged Washington to ensure asylum seekers are protected, but U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday that Mexico should send migrants seeking asylum in the United States back to their home countries.

U.S. authorities fired tear gas canisters toward migrants in Mexico — near the border crossing separating Tijuana from San Diego, Calif. — on Sunday when some rushed through border fencing into the United States. Mexico’s foreign ministry presented a diplomatic note to the U.S. government on Monday calling for a “full investigation.”

Refugees, Migrants, Asylum seekers
Men line up for dinner outside a shelter housing members of the migrant caravan, in Tijuana, Mexico. VOA

After Trump signed an order limiting asylum rights earlier this month, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the United States must make sure anyone fleeing violence or persecution can get protection “without obstruction.”

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch, asked on Tuesday about U.S. forces firing tear gas at migrants, told a Geneva news briefing: “We are following those reports with concern. We are still trying to understand what transpired there.”

Border management is “a sovereign prerogative of national governments,” but border security and international protection for refugees are not mutually exclusive, he said.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence,asylum
Rohingya refugee children shout slogans during a protest against the repatriation process at Unchiprang refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh. VOA

“It means that any person whose life is at risk in their country of origin must be able to access territory and request asylum in a safe country. And each asylum request should be considered individually.

“We have been repeating our call on the U.S. authorities to grant access to the territory and to asylum procedure to those who are fleeing persecution and violence,” he said.

Sunday’s incident was the latest chapter in a saga that has pitted Trump’s hard-line immigration policies against thousands of migrants who have made their way north through Mexico from violent and impoverished Central American countries.

Rohingya, myanmar, violence,asylum
Rohingya refugees walk under rain clouds on June 26, 2018, in Jamtoli refugee camp in Bangladesh. VOA

About 3,500 migrants from the caravans have applied for asylum in Mexico, Baloch said. Seven migrants have died in incidents along the way, Joel Millman of the International Organization for Migration said.

Also Read: Refugee Communities Can Be Built By Tech Industries

“We believe governments have the right to defend their borders and should do so responsibly,” he said. “We also think migrants certainly should have the expectation that there be an access that is legal and safe for them to at least seek to cross
a border.” (VOA)