The beige, block structures stretched so far skywards that the sunlight blotted into the background rendering daylight scarce. Whilst perhaps only three stories tall, the buildings were sucked so close together that the oppressive darkness at ground level loomed a premature dusk. Along with the tight architecture, the alleyways connecting the houses were perpetually jammed. In order to navigate the town maze, one had to shimmy past the masses of bodies teeming in and out of the open doorways. Overhead, a bird’s nest of electrical cables hung haphazardly, it’s wires crisscrossing one another like the drunken brush-swipes of a Pollock painting. Here the health and safety standards float in a contrasting world and one cannot help but imagine the response to such chaos back on home turf; alarm bells would be ringing a state of electrical emergency! The ground I trudged upon was a turmoil of dirt & dust, splashed with the occasional puddle – some, sunk several feet deep stagnant with the rotten remanence of drain water and sewage.
This was Shatilah refugee camp in East Beirut, April 2017.
I glanced into houses where 10 or more bodies packed into tiny rooms crowded around little TV sets. I passed a girl of no more than 15 years old, heavily pregnant. As we ended our tour and headed for the camp entrance, I caught sight of a skinny youth, clothed in charity shop cast-offs, brandishing an AK-47 that seemed way too big for him. Apparently, he was guarding the entrance to what was either the camp government or the camp gangsters; in all probability, they are one and the same.
This was a far cry from any image of a “camp” I may have held. A refugee “camp” suggests a few pitched tents erected for a short stay. This, however, was something else but then of course, Shatilah has long ceased to be a “camp” in any classical sense as the realisation long ago crept in that the exile here was not exactly going to be a “temporary” one. Over 50 or so years, the camp has evolved into a miniature, massively compressed city steadily erected over three generations of misery. That’s three generations born without a home and without a nationality. Three generations without access to education, healthcare and without any right of employment. Yes, these are the forgotten and forsaken generations born without hope…
I visited Lebanon and Shatilah in April 2017 at the height of “Europe’s Refugee Crisis”. Note how the largest displacement our planet has ever witness is described as “Europe’s crisis”, like the real victim of the piece is the peaceful and prosperous European continent rather than the countless, desperate fuckers trying to clamber inside it for some refuge. But that is exactly how this entire humanitarian drama has been viewed, a struggle of civilisation against chaos. European nations have banged the drum and emphasised how an influx of refugees will drain their precious services and dilute their values, even though we grow increasingly unable to articulate precisely what our collective “values” are anymore. The last Prime Minister of the UK referred to the refugees moving across Europe as a “swarm” and similar language has been uttered throughout the capitals of Europe.
Even the heirs to the horrors of the Holocaust, the modern state of Israel have been no kinder. They are now essentially trying to bribe African refugees to simply go elsewhere and in the case of Shatilah, have to bear at least some of the culpability for the plight of every single soul trapped inside it. In fact, having suffered at the hands of war and genocide does not seem to make people one little bit kinder to others in the same position as I witnessed in Bosnia, where middle-eastern refugees were left to sleep on the streets; may God only help them once the cruel Balkan winter sets in.
Have and Have Not’s
On the whole, though, humanity is currently at an absolute apex. On a global scale, we are enjoying a period of unparalleled peace and prosperity. We are living longer and eating better. For so many of us, the world grows smaller each day as our powerful currencies and passports allow us to traverse the entire globe. Yes indeed, on so many levels, we have never had it so damned good. And yet, our bounty has not made us more generous, it has made us mean.
I can’t claim to understand why this is, why is it that we are so disengaged and uncaring. I can only apotheosise that the poor, wretched blighters finding themselves in these positions are just not seen as being human or as being real people…
…and it’s that perception that we want to change.
So we’re gonna make a film.
My very brief experience in Shatilah moved me. It was not pleasant and it was certainly not exactly how most people would want to spend an afternoon of their hard-earned “vacation time” but it was one of the most powerful experiences of my whole life. My experience at Shatilah that truly stayed with me and caused me to think “I wonder what I can do about any of this then?”
It was also in Lebanon where my friend and collaborator Andrew Babbage was first inspired to begin this project. Andy is a free-dive instructor, photographer, and filmmaker. Whilst travelling around the Middle-East earlier this year, Andy was moved by the tales of the displaced people he met in the region and hit upon the simple concept of Smile In Mosul;
“Let’s just go to the camps, speak to the people and make a film.”
We want to make the film in Iraqi-Kurdistan because it has borne the brunt of the maelstrom of chaos for several decades now. The people of Iraqi-Kurdistan are the people caught up in a vicious cycle of oppression, invasion and war. These are the people who have suffered Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, the misguided US-led invasion and now, of course, the civil war which saw many of them subject to the Caliphate imposed by Islamic State.
We want to know what their hopes and fears are, what their daily lives are and how they manage to retain hope and sanity. We also want to know how they feel about a world which seems intent as hell on ignoring them. We then want to take this material and show it to you and to the worlds from which we come.
So why us? Why do we feel we should be the ones doing this? Well to be perfectly honest we shouldn’t be. We are utterly under-qualified for this kind of project but the bottom line is that nobody else is doing it.
We Need Your Help
But we need your help. Traveling to Iraq to make a film costs money and we don’t have that much of it. We have to get flights and Visa’s. We’ll need to hire an interpreter and to stay safe we’ll need some kind of security protocol. Oh, and if we’re gonna make a film we’ll also need a camera I guess. Our crowdfunding goal is very humble. We only need to raise $2000 Aussie Dollars as we can front the rest of the cash ourselves. We’d love it if you could help.
If you feel you can help, then please simply follow this link to the crowdfunding page.
Smile For Mosul. Maybe we can do just a little bit to make the world just a little bit better.
Editors Note – If anybody out there questions the “appropriateness” of two westerners turning up in a refugee camp with a movie camera (suggesting that we should maybe just stay home, do nothing and instead simply “leave them to it”), well this is something we have already discussed at length with our on the ground contacts. The consensus is that the inhabitants of the camp would be very glad to see us, to speak to us and will appreciate the effort we are making.