Many have addressed the recurrent issue of refugees trying to make it into safe territory in Europe. The daily news has been continuously reporting about refugee numbers and data. Less knowledge comes from the individual stories of those concerned. NGO’s either move in or out of refugee camps trying to find proper solutions to the huge number of humanitarian crises. But what is truly going on at the individual level? And what can Europeans do to make a difference and offer their help?
Amsterdam based filmmaker Carin Goeijers found Riace, a village in the Calabria region of southern Italy, very hospitable to the newcomers. The mayor of the village, Domenico Lucano – with many locals supporting him – strived to keep «their» foreigners. That is until their eviction by the Italian government. He even made sure food coupons were handed out to refugees (fake money), so local shop owners were able to support and provide for basic needs before the actual funding had arrived.
But the welcoming and refugee friendly mayor was put in house arrest in October last year due to accusations that he was abetting illegal immigration. Amongst the claims is that he has encouraged false marriages between the local citizens and the immigrants. But Lucano is supported by many Italians saying «the only crime he has committed is one of humanity.» People in Riace from both the Italian and the immigrant’s side are very much in favour of his policies, which have proven beneficial to Riace and the newcomers. «Fortunately, many people from outside Riace support the village,» Goeijers said to Modern Times Review.
Dramatic end to a life on the run
We follow Becky – the main character in this documentary – who has fled from her native country Nigeria. She is on the run, trying to escape an arranged marriage with an elderly man. There is a real bond between her and various people in the little Italian town, which is heartfelt and intriguing. The intimate scenes shot in local shops and at residents’ homes support this.
«Fortunately, many people from outside Riace support the village.» – Carin Goeijers
However, Becky and many others eventually have to leave Riace, which results in her fatal ending. The tragedy took place right after she had created a temporary home for herself in Riace: she was evicted and sent off to a refugee camp, San Ferdinando. Her story in Europe ends in a disastrous fire in which Becky, while trying to find and save her documents, is killed. This true tale of a single woman in search of a better life is perfectly, yet sadly, portrayed in the film.
Documentary as a kick-starter for debate
After the world premiere at IDFA in November 2018, Goeijers went back to the quiet picturesque town where she had witnessed the friendship arising between migrants and local groups. The population of Riace was invited for a special screening of her prize-winning documentary.
«The residents were very impressed because they saw Becky talking, laughing and crying again. After the screening of the film, most of them came to me to talk, shake hands or hug. Especially, the people who knew Becky personally were very moved but also happy with the fact that the film tells the story of ‘the migrants’,» Goeijers said.
She also added that people were positive about the fact that the film «tells a realistic story instead of an idealistic story.»
«The people who knew Becky personally were very moved but also happy with the fact that the film tells the story of ‘the migrants’» – Carin Goeijers
Many refugees have had to leave Riace in recent months. According to Goeijers, the stragglers now work (together with Domenico Lucano, now in exile in a neighbouring village) on a plan to somehow work with migrants, while also receiving them in a different way.
«Everyone is backing up this idea because they want to see migrants coming back, and find life rather quiet in the village now,» Goeijers said.
Away from the political or legislative debate and the rise of voices opposed to giving aid to «strangers», a humane sense of dignity in dialogue can help both sides to form unified ideas and policies in order to bridge the gap. However, it’s not perfect yet – far from it.