At least 3.2 million people have fled Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, but fewer than 150,000 have been granted asylum in Europe. In the first nine months of 2014, 7,552 Syrians arrived in the Netherlands seeking asylum, with 90% of applicants being accepted. The Netherlands remains an attractive proposition for refugees due to its rare ‘family reunification’ policy, which seeks to reunite families who have been separated while fleeing their home countries.
Hanadi is one such woman to have sought refuge, having fled Syria with her family in early 2014. Hanadi had a comfortable life in Syria, with a job for City Hall that she loved, and a close-knit extended family living in earshot, until the violent conflict made her home too unsafe to live in.
Director Liz Mermin, working with the Thomas Reuters Foundation, followed Hanadi for several days as part of the short documentary From Damascus to Kessel Eik. In 2016, she revisited Hanadi to discover what happened to her next. Check back tomorrow for that film. In the meantime, Part One can be watched above.
Huck spoke to director Liz Mermin to learn more about the background of the project.
How did the films come to fruition, and why did you select Hanadi as their focus?
We had the idea to do a “day in the life” series about Syrian refugees in Europe in the summer of 2014 — before the dramatic increase of deaths in the Mediterranean, and before borders began closing and the refugee crisis began threatening the basic principles (if not the very existence) of the EU. Europe wasn’t taking many refugees.
We wanted to show what life was like for those that did make it, both to make the point that these people aren’t terrifying and alien, and to explore the emotional and practical challenges of starting again. Hanadi was particularly interesting because she was a strong-willed woman who missed the culture of Damascus, but was also feeling liberated by the freedom she had – as a woman – in the Netherlands.
What was the Syrian situation like when Hanadi first arrived in the Netherlands? Was it vastly different from the situation today?
Most of the refugees in Europe in 2013 were middle class or rich. They had property back home which they could sell to pay for plane tickets. Hanadi didn’t tell us the details of her case, but often people would enter using false documents and then claim asylum. That’s a lot harder these days. The racist backlash hadn’t started. It was before the Paris attacks so the fear hadn’t kicked in. It’s only getting harder for Syrian refugees.
Watch From Damascus to Kessel Eik: Hanadi’s Story above, courtesy of The Thomas Reuters Foundation.