“So these people that you see leaving, they’re leaving for something called humanity, just to gain their right to life.”
These are quotes from individuals featured in Valia Charalampidou’s latest film documenting the European refugee crisis through the lens of displaced Syrian families, volunteers, local citizens and authorities whom Charalampidou and her team meet along the way. Charalampidou’s connection to this historical event starts with her own background. Born to Greek parents in Switzerland, she decided to take some time off work to volunteer on the Greek island of Lesbos. “Both my grandparents migrated to Greece because of war. They were originally from Turkey, and fled to Damascus. They eventually made it to Port Pirears, Greece. Today’s refugees are landing on the same port as my grandparents did 90 years ago. How can I not help when this is my story?” she shared.
The current global refugee crisis marks the highest levels of displacement in history. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from homes. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also an estimated 10 million stateless individuals who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. Of over 60,000 migrant individuals who crossed the Aegean Sea into Greece in January 2016, stories were collected and documented.
Produced under the direction of Lucas Oldwine, Citizen Xenos shines the light on what happens when people persevere in spite of seemingly impossible challenges. Ultimately, the film seeks to provide an unbiased view on the situation refugees currently face and to preserve the stories of these people who have chosen to lend their voices.
Some may argue that it is not necessary to know the very details of the refugee journey, but without details, and the stories they create, history risks the presentation of vague anecdotes or even statistics that are less likely to lead to an almost personal acknowledgment that refugees seek or even need. For survivors of displacement, the traumatic event is only just the beginning of the story — and everyone’s story is different. There are many who have died, gone missing, have been raped or succumbed to severe illness. And yet there are those who managed to make it through and are living to share their stories. Everyone has struggled through this journey, but there is also the need to celebrate victories, large and small.
Oldwine seems to understand this as he recalls his experience working on the film. “Working on the creation of Citizen Xenos has been like nothing I’ve ever been involved in before. Interacting with the refugees, listening to their life stories and seeing how they cope with the situation was an utterly humbling experience,” he shares on the documentary’s site. “That’s how I aim this film to work, as a documentary for the refugees and people to watch and get a heartfelt sense of who those people that they met during their journey were and what were the stories that brought them on the island from all around the world to help people in need.”
Featured Image: Citizen Xenos
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