Malta’s Prime Minister met the UK’s PM David Cameron yesterday (10 May) to discuss the issue of Malta’s ‘migrants’ and wider EU responsibility for their plight. The film ‘Suspended Lives‘ (produced by the Jesuit Refugee Service), gives insights into the stories of some refugees here. It is showing till mid June (dates below). Its aims? To remove the labels and give insights into the harsh realities people fled from and those they still face, as they live their lives in limbo in Malta’s ‘tent city’ and other centres around the island. Film maker and project initiator Andrew Galea Debono explains…
People have been forced to flee their homes due to war and persecution for centuries. Sadly, this reality continues today with over 43 million people currently finding protection far away from their homes, whether in other regions of their own countries or in other countries. Most of the refugees still live in developing countries, with more than half the refugees in the world living in Asia and 20 percent living in Africa.
A number of people head towards Europe, unable to find true protection in countries along the way. Malta, like many nations, has always offered protection to refugees from around the world. From 2001, the number of people asking for protection here has increased – with the majority of asylum seekers fleeing from Libya by boat due to the harsh realities faced there.
The idea behind the documentary ‘Suspended Lives’ is to give forcibly-displaced people a chance to tell their stories in their own words. While volunteering for the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malta, offering legal support to asylum seekers, I spoke to the staff there and shared with them the idea of making this production. Roberta Buhagiar, one of the JRS lawyers, joined the project with enthusiasm and we both asked around for people who would like to share their testimonies with us in front of a camera. This is never an easy step for someone who has been through extreme experiences, been persecuted in their home country and may have seen family members brutally killed. It is not easy to sit in front of a camera and talk about events which shattered your life.
Along the way, we were lucky to encounter many people and organisations who believed in this production and contributed their talents out of goodwill, such as Australian composer David Lazar, Italian journalist Fabrizio Gatti, Spanish photographer Olmo Calvo Rodriguez, AFM Major Ivan Consiglio, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the PBS archives department, graphic designer Dan Cassar, soundman Steve Theuma, and the renowned Maltese director Tony Parnis. We are indebted to them.
The heart of this production lies in the courageous and wonderful people who not only shared their experiences with us, but also their humanity. They went beyond simply telling their stories. They shared their fears, their hopes and their dreams. Listening to them allowed us, and hopefully you as the viewer, to get a glimpse into what it means to be a refugee. Of course, the 75 minute running time is far from enough to tell the story of a life time, let alone six or seven.
However, we hope that people will be able to come away from this documentary with a better idea of the refugee experience – the often brutal realities that make people flee their homes, the treacherous travels they must undertake (stories of the harsh realities faced in Libya are particularly relevant to us here in a neighbouring country), and also the difficulties faced once they arrive in Malta.
While ‘Suspended Lives’ will not answer all the questions people may have on the issue of asylum, it may encourage us to seek answers beyond the dark room of the cinema – perhaps directly from refugees themselves. Once politics and pre-conceptions are taken out of the equation, one finds that refugees are people like us with similar hopes, dreams and fears – but often with a history of suffering which is hard to for most of us to imagine. After the barriers and labels are removed, you might find that you have met not refugees but a fellow human beings and, hopefully, friends.
See the film
The next screenings (which are free of charge) of ‘Suspended Lives’ are:
Thursday, 9 June 2011 at 7pm – University Chaplaincy, Msida.
Sunday, 19 June 2011 at 7pm – St James Cavalier, Valletta.
Photo: Andrew Galea Debono