As the Global Refugee Crisis Intensifies, 6 Docs to Watch

June 19, 2018
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by Patrice Taddonio Assistant Director of Audience Development

The number of refugees across the globe increased from 22.5 million in 2016 to 25.4 million in 2017, according to a Global Trends report released today by UNHCR — the biggest one-year increase recorded by the UN Refugee Agency.

Those 25.4 million refugees are among the more than 68 million people worldwide who had been displaced by “persecution, conflict, or generalized violence” by the end of 2017, the report said. It stated that 16.2 million of the world’s displaced people were newly or re-displaced in 2017, with the rest having been displaced in years prior.

In addition to Palestine refugees, most of the world’s refugee population came from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia, the report said — with children younger than 18 making up just over 50 percent of refugees.

The report, which comes amid an outcry in the United States over the separation of families apprehended at the southern border, also noted an “increase in refugees and asylum-seekers from the north of Central America,” where unrest and violence in countries like Venezuela has persisted or intensified.

But most refugees, according to the report, have fled not to the U.S. or Europe but to developing nations.

Here are six FRONTLINE documentaries to watch to better understand some of the conflicts driving this global exodus — and to see the first-hand experiences of people who have fled their homes in search of safety.

Children of Syria (2016)

The 6.3 million people who have fled the brutal violence in Syria make up nearly one-third of the global refugee population, the new report said. See some of their stories in this documentary. Filmed over three years, it follows four Syrian children from their struggle to survive the siege of Aleppo by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, to the devastating kidnapping of their father, to the beginning of their new lives as refugees. “These children, if we give them a future, they will benefit their homeland,” their mother, Hala Kamil, says in the film. “They will rebuild it.”

On the Brink of Famine (2016)

According to the UNHCR report, 2017’s biggest increase in refugees was from South Sudan, an east-central African country where a brutal civil war has sparked a man-made hunger crisis and driven millions of people from their homes. In this immersive, 360-degree documentary from FRONTLINE and the Brown Institute, meet people who were forced to abandon their farmlands and villages to escape the violence — people like Nyakouth, who says she was kidnapped and raped when a pro-government militia attacked her village. “They killed my nephew when he was out taking care of the cattle,” says Nyakouth, who eventually escaped her captors and went on to her country’s largest camp for internally displaced people.

Myanmar’s Killing Fields (2018)

The number of refugees from Myanmar increased by more than 200 percent by the end of 2017 to 1.2 million, the report said, as the government’s violent crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority intensified. Drawing on secret footage filmed by a network of citizen activists, this documentary, which premiered last month, tells the story of an orchestrated campaign against Rohingya Muslims in majority-Buddhist Myanmar going back more than 5 years — long before their exodus became world news. In the documentary, you’ll hear from Rohingyas now living in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh about why they fled: “My five-year-old was thrown into the river,” says Mumtaz Begum, who survived a massacre at a village called Tula Toli. “I had a two-year-old baby on my hip. They grabbed the baby and threw him in the fire … As they raped me, my daughter was screaming, so they macheted her three times.”

 

ISIS in Afghanistan (2015)

By the end of 2017, 2.6 million of the world’s refugees were from Afghanistan, the UNHCR report said. In this FRONTLINE documentary, Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi — who has covered the war between the Taliban and the American-led coalition for more than a decade — explored a new front in the country’s violence: the emergence of ISIS. “I was thinking maybe the war will never end,” Quraishi says in the documentary, after filming ISIS fighters teaching children how to kill. “Never. And the people will keep suffering from war.”

Exodus (2016) & Exodus: The Journey Continues (2017)

In Exodus, FRONTLINE told the epic, first-hand stories of refugees and migrants fleeing countries including Syria, Afghanistan, and The Gambia, making dangerous journeys across 26 countries seeking safety and a better life. The initial, two-hour special drew on camera and smartphone footage filmed by refugees and migrants themselves – from inside a sinking dinghy on a route across the Mediterranean Sea where thousands have died, to the tents and fires inside Calais’s notorious “Jungle” camp. “Anyone can become a refugee, anyone,” Hassan Akkad, who fled Syria after he says he was beaten and imprisoned by government forces, said in the film. “It’s not something which you choose. It’s something that happens to you.” 

The second documentary continues the story of the ongoing crisis – chronicling the journeys of refugees and migrants caught in Europe’s tightened borders, and facing heightened nationalism and rising anti-immigrant sentiment. “When we were back home, we’d talk about how peaceful and wonderful it would be in Europe, and that we’d live happily ever after,” says a young man named Azizzulah, who fled Afghanistan after his brother — who worked as a translator for the U.S. Army — was killed in a bombing that also killed four American soldiers. “But had I known that the way would be so difficult, I would have never come.”

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