Cannes welcomes Syrian refugee social media star

Mahmoud Bitar, who has hundreds of thousands of fans, participates in festival after a long journey from Aleppo.

Mahmoud Bitar, a refugee from Aleppo, arrived on a beach in Greece as a refugee one year ago.

This year, he’s in the French Riviera for the Cannes Film Festival. For the Syrian social media star, it’s been quite a journey.

Using comedy to tackle stereotypes about refugees, he has built up a massive following by charting his voyage from Turkey to Greece and, ultimately, to Sweden.

“My message, it’s like: we came to live in peace. We didn’t come for money or for food,” Bitar told Al Jazeera. “We came to have a safe place, where we could work … We can work and we can pay taxes like everyone living here.”


His videos, some of which attract up to 500,000 views, also send a message to other refugees that the reality of life in Sweden and other European countries will be different from their expectations.

“As he has such a big audience and so many young followers, he can help them to say, ‘I can do this. I can document my journey or my life today.’ And it’s interesting and it’s important,” Li Skarin, executive producer at the Swedish production house Massa Media, told Al Jazeera.

At Cannes, Bitar attended Refugee Voices in Film, an event highlighting refugee-related films, supported by the the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The event aimed to help displaced people and filmmakers to tell their stories to a global audience – something Bitar is an expert in.

“There are various ways of addressing the refugee situation. One is to make films about the refugees. But we also find it more and more important to have the refugees tell their own stories,” UNHCR spokesman Ragnhild Ek said.

Source: Al Jazeera