Two Documentaries Tell Different Stories About Syrian Refugees

Two new documentaries have shed light on the plight of Syria’s refugees and how they are regarded by the world around them.

Apo Bazidi’s “Resistance is Life” chronicles the siege of Kobane, a primarily Kurdish town in northern Syria that Islamic State militants seized in 2014, forcing many of its inhabitants to flee. During the monthslong siege, thousands escaped to Turkey, including a family of five that moved into a refugee camp in Suruc.

Eight-year-old Evlin is the eldest of the children. Smart and engaging, she is the main character of this documentary. Using a small camera, Evlin trains her eye on scenes around the refugee camp.

“I take pictures of the pain around me,” she says.

Her high intellect and her voraciousness for learning seem wasted in a barren refugee camp. Yet Evlin seems to derive wisdom from her personal experiences and the experiences of others around her.

She appreciates the welcome the people of Suruc have extended to the refugees, but she confesses that sometimes her expressed appreciation is more for the sake of the giver.

In her young, perceptive mind, she has weighed the few options she and her family have.

“I have not given up on my homeland,” she says. With adult composure, she describes how many opt for making a treacherous trek to Europe. “They get on a boat. They ask each other who knows how to operate it. One says, ‘Me.’ Then people go in the water. Little children drown, and they die,” she says.

Key role of women

In April 2015, Kurdish fighters were able to liberate the villages of the Kobane canton. Enwer Muslim, prime minister of the canton, says women led a major part of the resistance.

“Young women fought to prevent even a single braid falling into the hands of ISIS,” he says, using an Islamic State acronym. “It may hurt some male fighters to hear this, but believe me, 70 percent to 80 percent of our victory was led by women.”

But the city lies in ruins.

Many have returned to their destroyed homes, but tens of thousands, including Evlin and her family, remain in a refugee camp.

The threat of the extremists is still palpable in the region, and life is far from returning to normal. The documentary is a reminder that these people need help from the international community.

Tonislav Hristov’s “The Good Postman” focuses on a dying Bulgarian village as its elderly inhabitants face refugees crossing into their lands from Turkey.

As the electoral campaign of three mayoral candidates heats up, the debate over Syrian refugees, who cross illegally into their village daily, intensifies.

The current mayor is a young woman who brings little hope for relief to the poverty-ridden villagers.

An unemployed self-styled revolutionary is a populist candidate, who longs for the older communist times and mixes utopian socialism with bigotry and xenophobia. During a lackluster campaign gathering, he promises “internet for all” to the sparse octogenarian electorate that has huddled around, waiting for a ration of sausages and beer, and in the same breath he declares his objection to Syrian refugees settling in his village.

Ivan, a postman and the liberal candidate in the race, offers a different proposal: Let the refugees settle in the village and revitalize it.

Mayor re-elected

In the end, neither Ivan nor the revolutionary wins. The existing mayor, who has not campaigned, wins again amid the poverty and malaise of her dying constituents.

Kaarle Aho, the documentary producer, says the Bulgarian village is reflective of the Western world.

“It’s sort of like a microcosm. You have these people everywhere in Europe and also here. You don’t have to go to a small Bulgarian village in order to find these characters. The same kind of politicians you have in Finland and Sweden, everywhere in Europe,” he says, “but also probably the United States. … There is like a small-time populist politician there who’s just promising anything and who’s trying to raise fears among people, to make people be afraid of everything new. And then, funnily enough, the liberal guy is the postman of the village.”

As for the populist candidate who ran against the settlement of Syrian refugees in the village, Aho says “he has a son living in Ukraine, which means that his son is an immigrant. Yet he doesn’t want to have immigrants in his own country,” underscoring his hypocrisy.

“The Good Postman” is as heartbreaking as it is funny, a searing satire of today’s world.

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