The odyssey of Syria’s war children into an unwelcoming Europe

Argentinean filmmaker Hernán Zin follows the fortunes of a group of 20 youngsters fleeing conflict

A still shot from 'Nacido en Siria'.
A still shot from 'Nacido en Siria'.

Hernán Zin, a 45-year-old Argentinean filmmaker, has spent half his life making documentaries.

Many of these have focused on war; others on children. And some, like his latest work Nacido en Siria (or Born in Syria), combines both subject matters.

He has this great intelligence and frankness. Kais makes you ask yourself a lot of questions

Filmmaker Hernán Zin

The film has just premiered at the Seville European Film Festival, which runs until November 12, and is scheduled for release in January.

Mirroring his 2014 Nacido en Gaza, which highlighted the plight of 10 Palestinian children, Nacido en Siria looks at the tragedy of 20 Syrian young people as they journey to Europe in search of a better life.

Filming extended throughout 14 months, pushing the filmmaker to the limit.

Zin confesses he is tired.

Hernán Zin, director of 'Nacido en Siria'.
Hernán Zin, director of 'Nacido en Siria'.

“It’s been a longer shoot than we thought it would be,” he says. “And a lot of it was in Europe, which made what I saw hurt even more. In Hungary I cried at the sight of families, grandmas being rolled on wheelchairs along the railroad tracks...It was very hard to film this.”

Of the 20 children he began following, only 11 are left at the end of the documentary. “I was unable to contact them again,” says Zin. “The estimates puts the number of young refugees whose whereabouts are unknown at more than 10,000. I spent the first day with three siblings, one of whom had cerebral palsy, who had left Syria after their parents’ death. I walked 40 kilometers with them, spent a night with them at a campsite...and for the next 14 months have heard no more about them.”

Over 4.8 million Syrians have fled their country since war erupted in 2011.

“People did not flee Aleppo on the first day. They held out at home, in their own country, until the last second,” says Zin. “Nobody emigrates for fun. They are people like us, except they have an emotional baggage filled with trauma, pain and despair. They have lost half their family and all they have now are the clothes on their back.”

Zin adds: “They cannot stay in Turkey, that is a fallacy. All that’s left for them to do is to risk a sea journey or try to cross by land.”

A still shot from 'Nacido en Siria'.
A still shot from 'Nacido en Siria'.

The journey prompted Zin to ask himself many questions.

“Why do the European authorities not have lists to help with family reunification? Why don’t they help the refugees? The UN has congratulated Canada for its immigration policy. In 2017 it will welcome 300,000 refugees, including 37,000 from Syria. What about Spain?”

Gianfranco Rosi, winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlinale with Fire at Sea, about the migrant tragedy in Lampedusa, says that he enjoyed Zin’s own take on the migrant crisis.

“I feel the same way he does. We are not meeting the European ideals we like to boast about. We need to react, to do things and to do them well, like Canada. The goal of my work in this time of absurd, wall-building populism is precisely the opposite: building bridges. Right-wing populism feeds off the same thing as ISIS: hate for the other.”

We are not up to the European ideals that we like to boast about

Filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi

Nacido en Siria, like Nacido en Gaza, also shows children’s ability to adapt to any situation.

“The difference is that Palestinian kids are already the children and grandchildren of refugees. They have a story to tell. The Syrians are still in post-traumatic stress, trying to figure out what’s happened to them.”

There are kids like the angelic-faced Marwan, who conceals a storm within his soul and learns French in a hurry in order to help his father. And there is Kais, whose face has been disfigured and who nobody wants to tell that his father has died.

“He won me over,” says Zin. “He has this great intelligence and frankness. Kais makes you ask yourself a lot of questions.”

English version by Susana Urra.


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