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From: Featured Documentaries

World Refugee Day: Must-Watch Documentaries

Around the world with asylum seekers and refugees struggling for the chance at a new life.

Worldwide, more than 70 million people are currently forcibly displaced, according to the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR.

Among them, 25,9 million are refugees. They have fled war, conflict, persecution, political oppression, climate change and disasters in search of safety for them and their families.

Faced with conflicts from Syria and Yemen to CAR and South Sudan; violent rebellions and climate disaster across the Sahel; persecution in Myanmar and Eritrea; economic collapse in Venezuela; drugs and violence in Colombia and Mexico; desperation and poverty in Afghanistan; and state collapse in Libya, thousands risk it all daily in search of asylum abroad.

As the number of refugees increases, the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment has risen along with it. Across the Western world, right-wing political rhetoric has found a new home.

Meanwhile, in host countries across the world, communities of refugees are working to make new lives in different places. Some assimilate more easily, finding homes and welcoming neighbours, while others struggle, living for generations in refugee camps without official recognition or basic services.

Every year on June 20, the UN aims to shine a light on the plight of those fleeing out of desperation – people Al Jazeera has met and long documented in our attempt to tell the stories of those most affected by crises.

This year for World Refugee Day, we revisit some of our best films to shine a light on the lives of refugees across the globe.

Welcome to Italy: Migrant Tales of Survival


For years now, migrants have embarked on the dangerous sea crossing over the Mediterranean to reach what they perceive to be better and safer shores in Europe. Italy has been one of the principal destinations.

But when asylum seekers arrive, they don’t always find the life they were hoping for.

In this film, we meet three young North Africans who survived the hazardous journey to Italy only to find their European dreams in tatters.

The Mothers of Rinkeby: Last Night in Sweden


In Stockholm, deaths linked to crime and gang violence have affected communities, including the neighbourhood of Rinkeby. Despite being one of Sweden’s most socially and economically vulnerable areas, police presence there is rare.

Disappointed by the lack of systems in place to help protect Rinkeby, a group of super mums – Somali mothers and grandmothers – have set up weekly night patrols to help prevent crime in the area.

Every Friday and Saturday night, they put on their orange jackets and walk through the community in groups of two or three, passing areas where young people are known to sell drugs, in the hope of deterring them from a life of crime and violence.

When Time Stopped At Sea


Between 2014 and 2017, more than 12,000 refugees died or went missing in the Mediterranean Sea. A year before Al Jazeera met Iraqi Jamal al-Dalemey, his youngest son had vanished without a trace.

Equipped with the skills he gained from Saddam Hussein’s secret service, Jamal embarked on a journey to reconstruct his son’s last-known steps.

The search took him from Turkey to Greece, while the rest of his family considered an offer of relocation to Europe.

Gambia: Back Home 


The Gambia is one of Africa’s smallest, most impoverished countries. In recent years, the number of youth leaving in search of prosperity has soared.

Thousands have sought refuge in Europe; tragically, many died along the way, while others who have made it struggled in the face of racism, discrimination and increasingly tough EU regulations.

Now some of these migrants have returned home, deeply traumatised by the experience, and determined to discourage others from following the same path.

Libya: The Migrant Trap


More than two years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, People & Power travelled to Libya where thousands of refugees and economic migrants – many dreaming of a better life in Europe – were caught up en route in the crisis-torn country.

Despite Libya being in the midst of social, political and economic chaos, migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa, flooded there in search of new opportunities or passage across the Mediterranean.

But a different reality awaits them on arrival. For many, Tripoli was a dead end. Heavily armed and often competing militias controlled much of the capital; many migrants found themselved detained in unsafe, difficult conditions.

Syria: No Strings 


In the early years of Syria’s civil war, many of the small towns on the Turkish side of the border were inundated with refugees fleeing the conflict.

In Kilis in 2013, there were some 40,000 Syrian refugees, most of whom were children. In the town, teachers tried to help children cope with the trauma of war, as many had faced agonising hardships.

In this film, we met young Mohamad, Noor and Farid. All three had lived through different refugee experiences, but were unified by a struggle that does not normally make the headlines – the battle to regain their childhood.

Shooting Hope 


In 2010, before the start of the Syrian war, the majority of refugees living in Lebanon were Palestinian. In Southern Lebanon, Ain el-Hilweh was the largest camp housing Palestinian refugees in the country.

A decade ago when this film was made, military checkpoints guarded the camp’s entry points, and the Palestinian community inside rarely engaged with the Lebanese one on the outside. 

In this film, we hear the story of an extraordinary project that brought together Palestinian and Lebanese teenagers who usually live their lives on different sides of the divide. Through photography, we get a glimpse into how they see their lives as they navigate between the religious, ethnic and political divisions that scar the country.

Asylum In America 


Imran, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, and his Iranian friend, Amir met on Manus Island – the migrant detention hub they were held at after fleeing their homelands in search of sanctuary in Australia.

But unlike many others, the island was not their final destination. Now, they are both forging new lives in North America – Imran in Chicago and Amir in Canada.

Filmed over 18 months, 101 East documents the jubilation and challenges the men experience as they navigate their newfound freedom.

Brides and Brothels: The Rohingya Trade 


Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya girls and women fled Myanmar to escape a military crackdown in 2017. Thousands survived rape and the slaughter of their families.

Now in Bangladesh‘s refugee camps, they thought they would be safe. But inside the tents that house almost a million refugees, women and girls are being bought, sold and given away.

In this film, we meet vulnerable Rohingya women and investigate the dangers they still face as people seek to exploit them.

Bajamar Ballad 


For years, a group of 25,000 Afro-Colombian refugees and migrants lived in a town on stilts over the sea at the edge of Buenaventura on Colombia’s Pacific coast – until the Colombian government planned to relocate the entire community to an inland barrio so that it could develop a commercial port and tourist beaches.

In 2011, when this film was made, community leaders tried to resist the eviction and fight for compensation, to push back against a move that would rob residents of their homes and their main livelihood – fishing.

To rally for the cause, activist Benildo Estupinan organised local musicians and singers to hold concerts, rallies and to record songs in defence of their homes and lives.

The Ban: The human cost of Trump’s travel ban


A week after Donald Trump became president of the United States in 2017, he signed an order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The ban also affected refugees, many in urgent need of resettlement.

As the new directive created organisational chaos within US immigration, airport arrival halls across the country filled up with thousands who came to protest against the ban, helping to prompt the legal movement to overturn it.

In this film, Fault Lines reported from the front lines of the so-called “Muslim ban”, meeting families separated across borders, and refugees whose lives may never be the same again.