2017, Arts & Entertainment, Politics & Current Affairs

Film prompts discussion on plight of Syrian refugees

This article originally appeared on the Toronto Observer.

Tasneem Fared, clad in a white bridal dress, tells the story of a horrific night in Syria in the documentary The Bride’s Side. That night, she recalled, she danced away, using music to drown out the sound of exploding bombs, occasionally taking off an earplug to check whether her home had been shelled.

The tales of other people in the film are similarly chilling. Abdallah Sallam talks of the horrors of losing his friends in a shipwreck as he attempted to escape Syria, before eventually continuing his journey alongside a heap of dead bodies after being saved by a Maltese warship.

The Bride’s Side features an Italian filmmaker and a Palestinian poet assembling a fake wedding party, with the purpose of smuggling five Palestinians and Syrians from Italy to Sweden – a country more sympathetic to refugee applicants.

The idea is that the ‘bride’ – Fared, dressed in wedding attire – and her entourage would be deemed too innocuous to be stopped at border checkpoints.

Politica Cinema Danforth aired the documentary March 10 at Eastminster United Church in East York in front of an audience of over 100 people. The Danforth chapter is an NDP-run affiliate of the Montreal-based umbrella organization that aims to inspire social change through political video content.

In the film, refugees recount gut-wrenching tales as they make a potentially treacherous journey through Europe, but remain hopeful as they look towards the largesse of Sweden. The group even lets loose at a Marseille bar, head-banging to the Arabic raps of 12-year-old refugee Manar, who lets out a furious volley of rhythmic angst.

Asma Atique, 26, who attended the Danforth screening, said the movie puts a face and narrative to the Syrian crisis, as opposed to reports of large numbers of dead and unrelatable people in refugee camps.

“It’s like when you see pictures of starving children from Africa. It affects you, of course, but it’s so far away from the possibilities of where you can end up that you kind of just lump it in like the ‘oh my God there are horrible things happening in the world’ corner of your mind,” Atique said.

“And you feel helpless and you can’t do anything about it. But this is a little different representation of how people are experiencing the war.”

According to one of the panelists at the event, Malaz Sebai, the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq has worsened while the public’s attention has drifted away.

Sebai is a board member of Lifeline Syria, a non-profit organization aiding private citizens to help resettle refugees in the GTA.

“The problem’s not going away and it’s the largest crisis since the Second World War. Unfortunately, right now, the doors are kind of shut for people like us, who want to help,” he said.

Sebai was referring to the Canadian government recently limiting citizens from privately sponsoring refugees, as it faces an abundance of people eager to do so. He said more 45,000 refugees from across the world are currently waiting for their applications to be processed by the Canadian government.

Canadians should demand action from their elected representatives, he added.

“Go talk to your MP. It’s that easy,” he said. “It’s something Canadians don’t do enough of. These are the people in Ottawa who represent us and who carry out our will. I’d encourage you to reach out to them and ask them, ‘What are you doing to stop this? What are we doing to bring more people here? What are we doing to support people who are already here?’”

While there are many Canadians willing to help and bear the costs of sponsoring refugees, a newly released Immigration Department survey shows that 30 per cent of Canadians think the federal government is accepting too many refugees.

Are Canadians taking inspiration from the politics south of the border where the Trump administration has issued a moratorium on accepting Syrian refugees?

David Langille, head of the outreach community of NDP’s Toronto-Danforth Riding Association, which organizes the film screenings, has faith in Canadians.

“We have been welcoming of refugees – that’s part of who we are. We are a nation that’s more progressive than the United States, more tolerant, more understanding,” he said. “Maybe it’s because we are smaller – we’re not an imperial power. We realize the importance of social solidarity and looking after people.”

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