The war in Syria has increased the already growing numbers of immigrants crossing the Mediterranean towards Europe, often via Libya. This has resulted in more boat accidents and deaths in the Mediterranean, particularly off the Italian island of Lampedusa.
My life fell apart after the disaster ... I feel handcuffed. Things that are precious to us have gone .... Our lives no longer have any purpose.
On October 11, 2013, the Maltese and Italian coastguards got a distress call from a boat carrying around 400 Syrian and Palestinian migrants.
They were Syrians escaping the civil war and Palestinians from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus trying to flee the violence between Palestinians supporting the Assad regime and those siding with the Free Syrian Army.
They had originally sought refuge in Libya but, were then trying to find a way to Europe in search of a better future.
“We left Syria, heading to Libya. Once we arrived in Libya, our life became very difficult … Libyans have no idea what is happening in Syria…. We used to think Europe was heaven,” says Zakarea Dawik, a survivor.
After they left port, the boat was fired upon from the Libyan shore and it is likely that this damage ultimately led to the disaster. When the boat capsized and sank off the coast of Lampedusa, some passengers dragged under by the down force, but others remained on the surface for several hours.
After more than five hours in the water, survivors were finally picked up by Italian coastguards whose initial priority was to get them into the rescue boats. Parents handed over their children, not realising they might not see them again for some time. They were picked up by Maltese coastguards and many families were split between Italy and Malta. Survivors who ultimately lost the rest of their families did not know who had – and had not – survived until much later.
This documentary follows the stories of Syrian and Palestinian migrants as they risk their lives trying to escape conflict and oppression in their homeland.