Documentary Project Announcement: After Asylum

Documentary Project Announcement: After Asylum

No one leaves home unless

Home is the mouth of a shark

No one puts their children in a boat unless

The water is safer than the land

Warsan Shire

 

Not everyone has the privilege of travelling for pleasure; not everyone is on the road by choice. Since January 2018, more than 120,000 of our fellow humans have landed in Greece, mostly in rubber dinghies, desperately hoping to seek asylum. 

This figure is colossal, inconceivable even – and it does not even include those who have drowned en route. It does not take into account people stopped midway across the Aegean Sea by water authorities and turned back, nor the hundreds of thousands frantically waiting in Turkish ports for a message that says, “Tonight is the night: your boat is ready.” This figure does not even begin to encompass the elderly, children, women and men still making the perilous overland journey to Turkey from their home countries – fleeing forced marriages, domestic violence, sexual violence, extreme poverty, decade-long wars and persecution – hoping to cross into Europe and claim protection.

But once these people land on Greek shores, their hellish expedition is far from over. For periods of what might span years, they will be crammed into squalid camps whilst awaiting the nail-biting decision of whether or not the dangers they escaped and the traumas they carry are great enough to class them as genuine refugees. 

If they make it, they will be sent to settle in Athens, the capital of a country with an unemployment rate of 16.5 per cent. For many, this is seen as the dream. But the reality of living as a new migrant in Athens is very different once you’re there, and though some are able to assimilate, many struggle to find the new life they were hoping for.

In July 2019, in keeping with rising nationalist rhetoric across the Western world, a centre-right government was elected in Greece. In addition to turning the camps scattered across the Aegean Islands into detention centres and cracking down on volunteers assisting with the crisis, the government has promised to strengthen Greece’s anti-refugee policies and decongest the camps scattered across the Aegean Islands.

This has seen a huge influx in the number of new migrants living in Athens, which has been coupled with the forced closure of multiple squatted housing projects. Though access to basic services and living conditions on the mainland are better than in the camps, destitution is still rampant, the knock-on effects of which are heartbreaking. To give just one example, with severely limited opportunities for dignified work, many women are in danger of being trafficked, and are being forced to engage in non-consensual sex in exchange for housing and sustenance.

At Global Hobo, we are fiercely committed to social justice and supporting diversity in the work we publish, giving space to voices that have been traditionally excluded from mainstream media and building an accessible community around storytelling. Due to a lack of exposure, the plight of refugees is often so far removed from mainstream society that they are rendered invisible. Such separation has the tendency to give way to the politics of fear, which increases everyday people’s anxieties around immigration, economic disenfranchisement and radical Islam, and legitimises government campaigns characterised by nationalism, xenophobia and Islamaphobia. 

Accordingly, since last year, part of Global Hobo’s profits have been funding independent coverage of the European refugee crisis from the ground in Greece. In 2019, this involved sending a journalist to a refugee camp on the island of Chios, where she wrote about life in Vial, EU and Greek government corruption and the criminalisation of aid and voluntary assistance.

In 2020, in collaboration with the lens and music of Solo Symphonic, we will be sending a small documentary crew to Athens from August onwards to shift the debate away from dehumanising statistics and tell the stories of some of those who continue to be affected by their displacement. All the profits from every Japan workshop sold for June/July 2020 will be going towards this project, which we have titled ‘After Asylum’.

In Athens, we will attempt to balance documenting elements of a largely undocumented continuing crisis in a way that engages even the disengaged, whilst not overly aestheticising or poeticising human tragedy and the refugee experience. With our main values being solidarity, empowerment and dignity, we will strive to provoke viewers, raise awareness and provide a relevant contribution to Europe’s refugee and migration debate – without condensing all refugee experiences into a single narrative. We will also do our best to understand refugees’ experiences of being watched and documented by the world around them.

As journalists and filmmakers, we strongly believe in the importance of bearing witness to human suffering. Storytelling – film in particular – is a powerful medium through which to effect change. That being said, we will be constantly questioning our complacency in being observers and documenters, and as such, will be coupling our documentary project with an attempt to contribute to refugee lives in a more tangible way. 

Currently, we are planning to arrange free conversational English and Greek classes for newly arrived refugees in cafes and spaces in the local community, and are also looking to fund the rent for a number of new arrivals for a few months in order to try and make their transition into Athens life a tiny bit easier. We will also be working and volunteering with grassroots organisations on the ground in Greece. 

In terms of support, though this project is in its infancy stage, Australian publication New Matilda has generously offered to provide us assistance with storylines and distribution. In addition to directing profits from our mid-2020 workshops, we will also be throwing fundraising parties in Australia in May, applying for grants and approaching like-minded businesses and friends to help cover the costs. 

If you or someone you know is interested in offsetting some of the more frivolous or pleasure-seeking travel they indulge in, please tell them to get in touch with gemma@globalhobo.com.au.

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