Since last year, the fallout from the Syrian civil war has sparked the world’s largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, with record numbers of people risking – and often losing - their lives to reach Europe.
During this tragedy, events captured by the media have triggered widespread shock, outrage and condemnation: the image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi on a beach in Bodrum, the Hungarian journalist who tripped a man running away from police, the sinking of boats carrying hundreds of migrants… events that put faces and stories behind the numbers.
By 2016, the five-year-old crisis was still far from over. Braving winter cold, people were still arriving daily on Greek islands. These are men, women and children who decided that risking everything for a land they never set foot on was better than staying home.
But while the media often captures their arrival in Europe and their long walk across the continent, seldom do we witness their journey from Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and other places.
This Equal Times video, directed by journalists Romina Vinci and Ella Kiviniemi, captures these moments, through the incredible recorded evidence of Kidane Berhe, a courageous Eritrean refugee now living in Denmark. And it is brutal. Death, abuse, violence and fear are the common lot of asylum seekers at the hands of smugglers.
This remarkable short documentary not only gives us a glimpse of a reality happening every day: it forces us to consider both the amount of suffering and also the will to live that refugees feel.
This happens as governments across Europe are closing their borders, pushing back refugees and violating fundamental human rights. Denmark, a country often hailed for its generous social protection system, is no stranger to this tendency.
On 26 January, the Danish parliament approved a controversial bill allowing authorities to seize cash and valuables exceeding 10,000 kroner (€1,450) from asylum seekers to help cover their expenses. It also raised the waiting period before refugees can apply for their families to join them from one year to three, thus making it harder for families to reunite.
These decisions were strongly condemned by human rights groups who believe it is the most punitive measure yet taken by a European government against refugees. Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights even wrote that: “Such a measure could amount to an infringement of the human dignity of the persons concerned. It could also lead to violations of the right to property.”
In an effort to quell the critics, Denmark excluded sentimental items – like wedding rings – from the bill, while defending the measure and stating that “it is fair and reasonable that those asylum seekers who do bring enough assets with them should cover the costs of their food and lodging during the asylum process.”
Kidane’s video gives us a prism through which we can ponder these arguments.
And as Europe negotiated a controversial deal with Turkey that will systemically push refugees back from what they see as their best safe haven, Kidane remains hopeful nevertheless.
For in the end, his journey from Eritrea and his struggle to get asylum in Denmark, is just about “starting a new life.”