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Refugee Stories Told Through a Student Lens

The global displacement crisis demands more in-depth storytelling, says veteran journalist and teacher Stephan Garnett. He tells Refugees Deeply about a unique student project, the Flight For Life.

Garnett: Flight for Life takes its time.

It features a four and a half minute-long video that takes you inside a refugee camp outside of Amman, Jordan, [and] a 15-minute audio doc that takes the listener on a tour of a refugee camp outside of Hamburg – your discretion entirely, of course.

And we’re in a society where most people don’t take the time to really understand what the refugee crisis is about and who it’s affecting and who these people are. The people covered in Flight For Life [are] just a sample of them, but it’s a very representative sample

Stephan Garnett, a veteran reporter turned journalism teacher, had grown frustrated in early 2015 with what he saw as shallow coverage of the refugee crisis.

He thought that the mass movement of people demanded a deeper look and more patient storytelling. His time spent as an adviser to the global journalism program at the prestigious Medill school at Northwestern University provided him with the kernel of an idea.

He compared notes with a counterpart at the International Media Center at HAW Hamburg, Steffen Buckhardt, and the pair decided to unleash their respective students on the assignment. The result is Flight For Life, a mix of text, video and audio journalism, picking up on the stories of refugees and asylum seekers in Germany from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ghana, Egypt and Iran.

Ten teams of students from universities in three countries (the United States, Russia and Germany) spent weeks conducting research and interviews trying to capture the hopes, fears and aspirations of people making the transition from home realities to an alien host country – and the pathos of their situation.

The result stands comparison with some of the better reporting from professional outlets.

Bringing his own experience, ranging from crime and investigative reporting to time as an essayist for “Chicago Matters,” an acclaimed local Public Radio community series, Garnett helped to guide the diverse group of students, who included graduates and undergraduates.

Refugees Deeply: Where did the idea for Flight for Life come from, what was the impetus behind the project and how was it realized?

Stephan Garnett: The students involved run the gamut of ages from 19 to 35.

It took almost a year to develop [and] started in July 2015 with a conversation with Steffen Burkhardt from the International Media Center at HAW Hamburg. Hamburg was at the heart of it, it’s the wealthiest city in Germany and it’s part of the refugee story. We came up with a title and it started from there.

We had worked together on a previous project (thememoryarchives.org). We wanted to use a model where we have teams of students, something we’ve done previously. And he said to me, “How about bringing in Russian students?”

“Russia, I said, you’ve got to be kidding me” – but he wasn’t. He’d worked with them before and thought it would add another dimension. I felt it was something that would be an exceptional development, given Russia’s icy relationship with the West.

The next thing is I took it to [the] Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern because I wanted some of their grad students to join.

Then we did a seminar with them to learn more about Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts to understand the impetus for this mass refugee crisis that’s going on.

The students produced most of the content you see on theflightforlife.com in just six days. The reason that happened so fast was the work that was done by the German teams in advance.

Each of the teams had members from some of the countries; we – Burkhardt and I – opened a Facebook page to talk to each other and fix stories ahead of arrival. They talked about what kind of stories they wanted to pursue, so everyone knew as soon as they got there what they would be doing.

Refugees Deeply: What do you think that student reporters were able to bring to this story that was unique or different?

Garnett: Different students brought their own prior knowledge to the project, in terms of languages. Within the Medill group, we had an Arabic speaker with a Palestinian background. We had a Moroccan who speaks Arabic and an Afghan who speaks Farsi in the HAW group. (That’s Not good enough to know and translate the crisis)

Patick Martin is a former marine who served in Afghanistan, that’s why he chose that topic. He knew about that situation. We had students from all sides and perspectives who had personal interest and investment in the topic. We had a student with an Italian background who did a story on the attitudes of German citizens and could compare it to the way refugees were being received in Italy.

Basically, all the students joined the project for very personal as well as journalistic reasons. They wanted a better understanding of who these people were and what they’d been through.

The people who they found and interviewed have been through so much. They’re not terrorists, they don’t want destruction. They want their families and their lives back. They can’t have those lives back in Afghanistan or Syria or Iraq or Iran or Egypt. But there’s a risk that Afghans might be sent back. Germany doesn’t see Afghanistan as a conflict zone.

This was not easy material to report. Many of these people have been through hell. A guy kidnapped for six months and tortured. A victim of sexual mutilation who didn’t want the same thing to happen to her daughters.

The students are very young people but they handled this so well. They were sensitive, they were understanding and did a good job at getting their subjects to open up. Some of them were understandably afraid to talk.

There were people afraid of what might happen to their families back home if they spoke to a reporter.

Refugees Deeply: What is your assessment of the balance of media coverage of refugee issues and the global displacement crisis as a whole?

Garnett: The refugee crisis has not been covered very well at all in the U.S. When we do see coverage, it’s from a distance. There was more of it last year when there were the largest number of arrivals in Europe. That’s a hole that Flight For Life fills.

There’s a lot of coverage of terrorism when someone goes nuts and does something stupid. But these incidents are carried out by people [who are] on the fringe of society and are mentally disturbed.

They are not representative of refugees. The refugees are people just like you and me – doctors, architects, teachers. And we don’t see this in much of the media. We see them as floods of people arriving in Europe and causing problems, contributing to ruptures like the Brexit vote. This lopsided coverage helps to fuel populists like Donald Trump in the U.S.

In terms of giving us a close-up look at who these people are and what they’re going through, the media is not doing a good job. When we sat down and discussed this as a group, that’s what we wanted to show more than anything. That these refugees are people who are being forced to flee.

A lot of media organizations are cutting back, especially on the foreign bureaus. There might be an opinion among some editors that this story is not of the greatest interest to people. That audiences are more interested in the problems refugees are causing.

I was told 41 years ago when I started my career, and I’ve never forgotten, that if it bleeds it leads. Distressing news is what attracts the audience.

Refugees Deeply: How is Flight for Life different? What does it add to our understanding, and what would you like to happen as a result of this project?

Garnett: Flight for Life takes its time.

It features a four and a half minute-long video that takes you inside a refugee camp outside of Amman, Jordan, [and] a 15-minute audio doc that takes the listener on a tour of a refugee camp outside of Hamburg – your discretion entirely, of course.

And we’re in a society where most people don’t take the time to really understand what the refugee crisis is about and who it’s affecting and who these people are. The people covered in Flight For Life [are] just a sample of them, but it’s a very representative sample.

I would like it to be known, I would like people to see it and for the project to get attention. It’s not even mainly for the students – and I hope like hell they’ll benefit from it – I want to fill that hole where we’re not seeing who these people are and what they’ve been through.

It’s very enlightening, extremely edifying, it might even change an opinion. When you start looking at these stories – a man looking at his daughter on a cellphone while she’s far away in a camp in Jordan and he’s crying, what parent can’t relate to that?

The refugees are really heroes to a very great extent to have gone thorough what they’ve gone through, and to pick up and say I want something better and I’m going to take my family to find this new life. That’s why we called it Flight for Life.

Educating people, telling people something they did not know before, that’s what Flight For Life is. When we do something like this, we’re doing what journalists are supposed to do. We’re educating people.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

A diverse group of students in Germany produced a thoughtful multimedia project exploring the lives of refugees. My mentor and friend Stephan Garnett lead this important project, which I’m happy was published by Refugees Deeply & Preethi Nallu.

All of the stories are worth your time and I encourage you to explore them. If you are interested in how the project came together, I recommend this interview with Steve, who as usual gave all the credit to everyone else, but I know it couldn’t have happened without his insight and passion.

The global displacement crisis demands more in-depth storytelling, says veteran journalist and teacher Stephan Garnett. He tells Refugees Deeply about a unique student project, the Flight For Life.
newsdeeply.com

 

 

 

 

The ‘guardian angel’ guiding migrants after perilous crossing

CATANIA, Sicily

Nawal Soufi has stopped eating fish. The very idea of consuming seafood from the Mediterranean repulses her.

“I am always afraid that when I eat a fish it might have a piece of human flesh — a migrant who disappeared in the sea, never to be found — one of the many lost souls that the sea has taken,” she says.

Since the Arab Spring uprisings the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean has spiralled upwards with the exodus peaking in 2014 when 180,000 migrants reached the shores of Italy, according to International Office of Migration.

The ‘guardian angel’ guiding migrants after perilous Mediterranean crossing

Nawal Soufi, a humanitarian activist, at the central Catania train station as she makes an evening round to check for fresh migrant arrivals in need of assistance. Iason Athanasiadis for The National

Ms Soufi, however, has been helping those arrive in Italy for much longer, since she was a teenager.

In her home city of Catania, in Sicily, the 27-year-old is known as a guardian angel among locals and the tens of thousands whom she has aided. Catania has earned a nickname of its own — “the Gateway to Europe” for migrants who continue to arrive on boats.

Last week, 300 migrants disappeared in the Mediterranean, just the latest addition to the lost souls that preoccupy Ms Soufi. While aboard four dinghies they were either swallowed by colossal waves or succumbed to frigid temperatures.

Just days before this incident, another 29 migrants died of hypothermia while waiting to be brought to safety by the Italian Coastguard.

“Before it was Moroccans, Algerians and Eritreans, now it is mostly Syrians,” Ms Soufi says. “This [Sicily] is a land of migrants and always will be. It is a gateway, not so much between the east and west, but between human beings.”

From the inception of their treacherous journey crossing the Mediterranean Sea to their onward travel to Italy and further into the heart of Europe, she guides them. Amid the chaos, she is often their only confidante.

“When they contact me before they start, I tell them that I cannot condone that they take to the sea — whether from the humanitarian, legal or ethical perspective,” Ms Soufi says. But knowing that they will continue to come hundreds at a time, vulnerable to deception and trafficking, she has been unable to stop helping them.

Ms Soufi, who was born in Sicily to Moroccan parents, says she helps the migrants purely based on humanity. She works as a translator at the local court but her commitment to the migrants is relentless.

She has perfected numerous Arabic dialects over her years helping the refugees.

Almost every morning she wakes up with the next phone call, whether from a mother travelling with several children or a boatful of migrants in distress at sea with satellite phones in hand.

Once they safely arrive and are released by immigration authorities, she meets them at the local train station.

By default it has become the transit point for many Syrians, Eritreans, Egyptians, Malians, Nigerians and Afghans, a majority of whom intend to travel to northern European countries that they believe will afford them better asylum conditions and the means to restart their lives.

By the time they meet Ms Soufi, many have already been in contact with her, some for several months before starting their journeys.

Fatima and her 14-year-old daughter Ghinwa travelled from Damascus with the hope of reaching relatives in Germany. They are thankful for Ms Soufi’s help.

“For a while things were OK in Damascus but, aside from the conflict, they started running out of resources and the environment was just not good for my daughter,” says Fatima.

Many arriving say that even in the communities that are not experiencing daily battles, the fabric of society has unravelled after years of civil war. From severed families to a lack of basic supplies such as medicine and textbooks, the physical and mental infrastructures of cities and towns are in shambles.

Page 2 of 3

Despite having warned them against taking the boats, Ms Soufi awaits their arrival, knowing well that in the absence of state support and language skills, they are vulnerable to fraud, trafficking and crime, all the while, invisible to mainstream society.

“I also tell myself sometimes when going to bed that it is the last time. But, how can I refuse practicing life? This is a lifestyle for me,” she says.

Winter winds and continuing influx

Every winter, the Sirocco, a desert wind forming in the Sahara gathers to hurricane speed as it heads towards southern Europe, creating huge waves in the Mediterranean.

This year, the Sirocco rapidly gathered force over the past weeks bringing with it not just intense storms but also thousands of migrants in dilapidated vessels that Sicilian locals call “boats of death

Death that is sold at $1,000 per head if coming from Libya or as high as $6,000 if coming from Turkey,” says Ms Soufi, about the fees paid to the trafficking gangs.

Pointing to the vessels moored in the Catania harbour, she describes seeing these boats arrive, often filled beyond capacity with men, women and children clinging on for their lives, sometimes empty and at other times with dead bodies.

One of the world’s deadliest migrant crossings, the old Sicilian adage of the Mediterranean Sea as a “graveyard” is quickly returning to reality.

Mare Nostrum — the search and rescue operation launched by the Italian government in response to a series of boat tragedies in October 2013 off the island of Lampedusa — ended in October.

It was replaced by an operation called Triton led by Frontex, the European Union’s border control agency, which has reduced not just the funds and resources but also its mandate.

The limitations of Triton have become more apparent with the rising death toll, even over the harsh winter months when migration flows significantly subside.

In addition to last week’s death toll, 115 deaths were reported in January, according to International Office of Migration. There were only 27 deaths in the same period in 2014, when Mare Nostrum was still in effect.

UNHCR figures show that the end of the search and rescue operation has not deterred the flow of boats. The agency registered at least 22 boats arriving in Italy from Libya carrying 3,528 refugees in January, compared to 2,100 during the same period in 2014.

The increase in deaths, humanitarian organisations say, comes as no surprise.

“The two missions have an entirely different focus. Triton’s objective is border control whereas Mare Nostrum was primarily a rescue at sea operation,” explains Federico Fossi at UNHCR in Rome.

Given the latest fatalities, they have called for an operation on at least the same scale and resources as Mare Nostrum with “rescue” as a core objective.

Most recently, on Sunday, the Italian Coastguard set out to rescue another 1,000 migrants stranded 150 kilometres from Lampedusa. The unceasing arrivals reflect high levels of desperation among those fleeing conflict and with little to no options in neighbouring countries.

Twenty-one year old Ali had envisioned a different future after the Tunisian uprising started in 2011. Having played for the national rugby team, he proudly shares YouTube videos of himself scoring for his country.

“I was simply marching in one of the protests on the main square when I was picked up by intelligence. It was sheer bad luck,” he explains with a wry smile on his face.

Disqualification from his team and accusations of incendiary involvement in protests meant that he and his family were constantly harassed and threatened. So Ali fled his home. Arriving in Libya he found an even worse situation for those like him without the right documents and absence of a functioning asylum system.

Ms Soufi says most who went to Libya had hoped to find work there, especially before the situation worsened, with a collapsed state and criminal clans dictating the laws.

Page 3 of 3

“Complete lack of security meant they were forced to take to the sea with the smuggling gangs,” she says, after meeting Ali at the train station and helping find a bus for the next stage of his journey.

Unable to go further than Libya by land, they inevitably face the sea that lies between them and the hope of refuge in conflict-free Europe. Most of those arriving echoed her explanation. The push away from war and death is much greater than the pull of Europe.

Repeating cycle

Ms Soufi’s hours with these newest arrivals are packed.

She has explained logistics of travel, arranged their tickets, found them shelter for the night, helped purchase sim cards and basics, collected food and clothing and even provided a sort of crash course in what they should expect over coming months.

Beyond Italy, most of them will go their separate ways with different destinations in mind — Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Brussels and more — based on family ties, what they have heard from others and above all a quest for lives of dignity.

Asmaa, 45, from Deraa, home to the protests that sparked the Syrian uprisings, is hoping to reach her older son in Denmark. He fled more than year ago to escape the mandatory military draft.

Accompanied by her husband and 14-year-old son, Asmaa’s journey that spanned at least four countries, from Yarmouk camp in Syria to the shores of Italy, was fraught with danger and threats to their lives.

When we were in the desert, it was dark like a sea. Frightening. We kept getting passed on from smuggler to smuggler and then got kidnapped by a last one. I am not even sure if it was theatre or real,’

Despite having endured the toughest journey among this group, she is energised upon finally reaching safety and hopes to start a new peaceful chapter with her family intact.

As Asmaa boards the bus to Milan, she knows that she will never forget the ‘Angel of Catania’.

“I just wanted to be treated as a human being and for someone to simply acknowledge me, my existence” she says.

It is an emotional farewell as Ms Soufi walks away from the departure, bracing herself for the next distress call and repeating the session the next day and the one after.

During this brief lull, she will sit by the sea, reminiscing those she has helped over the years and others whom she lost before they ever arrived.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Preethi Nallu and Iason Athanasiadis are working on a multimedia project called “Parallel Journeys: Seasons of Migration” that explores the Mediterranean crossings through individual narratives.

Note: Libya is becoming the main gate for all the refugees in the Middle-east and Africa, fleeing the horrors and economic shortages in order to reach Europe by sea.  Qaddafi must be missed by the European Union

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Death that is sold at $1,000 per head if coming from Libya or as high as $6,000 if coming from Turkey,” says Ms Soufi, about the fees paid to the trafficking gangs.

Pointing to the vessels moored in the Catania harbour, she describes seeing these boats arrive, often filled beyond capacity with men, women and children clinging on for their lives, sometimes empty and at other times with dead bodies.

One of the world’s deadliest migrant crossings, the old Sicilian adage of the Mediterranean Sea as a “graveyard” is quickly returning to reality.

Mare Nostrum — the search and rescue operation launched by the Italian government in response to a series of boat tragedies in October 2013 off the island of Lampedusa — ended in October.

It was replaced by an operation called Triton led by Frontex, the European Union’s border control agency, which has reduced not just the funds and resources but also its mandate.

The limitations of Triton have become more apparent with the rising death toll, even over the harsh winter months when migration flows significantly subside.

In addition to last week’s death toll, 115 deaths were reported in January, according to International Office of Migration. There were only 27 deaths in the same period in 2014, when Mare Nostrum was still in effect.

UNHCR figures show that the end of the search and rescue operation has not deterred the flow of boats. The agency registered at least 22 boats arriving in Italy from Libya carrying 3,528 refugees in January, compared to 2,100 during the same period in 2014.

The increase in deaths, humanitarian organisations say, comes as no surprise.

“The two missions have an entirely different focus. Triton’s objective is border control whereas Mare Nostrum was primarily a rescue at sea operation,” explains Federico Fossi at UNHCR in Rome.

Given the latest fatalities, they have called for an operation on at least the same scale and resources as Mare Nostrum with “rescue” as a core objective.

Most recently, on Sunday, the Italian Coastguard set out to rescue another 1,000 migrants stranded 150 kilometres from Lampedusa. The unceasing arrivals reflect high levels of desperation among those fleeing conflict and with little to no options in neighbouring countries.

Twenty-one year old Ali had envisioned a different future after the Tunisian uprising started in 2011. Having played for the national rugby team, he proudly shares YouTube videos of himself scoring for his country.

“I was simply marching in one of the protests on the main square when I was picked up by intelligence. It was sheer bad luck,” he explains with a wry smile on his face.

Disqualification from his team and accusations of incendiary involvement in protests meant that he and his family were constantly harassed and threatened. So Ali fled his home. Arriving in Libya he found an even worse situation for those like him without the right documents and absence of a functioning asylum system.

Ms Soufi says most who went to Libya had hoped to find work there, especially before the situation worsened, with a collapsed state and criminal clans dictating the laws.

“Complete lack of security meant they were forced to take to the sea with the smuggling gangs,” she says, after meeting Ali at the train station and helping find a bus for the next stage of his journey.

Unable to go further than Libya by land, they inevitably face the sea that lies between them and the hope of refuge in conflict-free Europe. Most of those arriving echoed her explanation. The push away from war and death is much greater than the pull of Europe.

Repeating cycle

Ms Soufi’s hours with these newest arrivals are packed. She has explained logistics of travel, arranged their tickets, found them shelter for the night, helped purchase sim cards and basics, collected food and clothing and even provided a sort of crash course in what they should expect over coming months. Beyond Italy, most of them will go their separate ways with different destinations in mind — Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Brussels and more — based on family ties, what they have heard from others and above all a quest for lives of dignity.

Asmaa, 45, from Deraa, home to the protests that sparked the Syrian uprisings, is hoping to reach her older son in Denmark. He fled more than year ago to escape the mandatory military draft.

Accompanied by her husband and 14-year-old son, Asmaa’s journey that spanned at least four countries, from Yarmouk camp in Syria to the shores of Italy, was fraught with danger and threats to their lives.

“When we were in the desert, it was dark like a sea. Frightening. We kept getting passed on from smuggler to smuggler and then got kidnapped by a last one. I am not even sure if it was theatre or real,’

Despite having endured the toughest journey among this group, she is energised upon finally reaching safety and hopes to start a new peaceful chapter with her family intact.

As Asmaa boards the bus to Milan, she knows that she will never forget the ‘Angel of Catania’.

“I just wanted to be treated as a human being and for someone to simply acknowledge me, my existence” she says.

It is an emotional farewell as Ms Soufi walks away from the departure, bracing herself for the next distress call and repeating the session the next day and the one after. During this brief lull, she will sit by the sea, reminiscing those she has helped over the years and others whom she lost before they ever arrived.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Preethi Nallu and Iason Athanasiadis are working on a multimedia project called “Parallel Journeys: Seasons of Migration” that explores the Mediterranean crossings through individual narratives.


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