'Part of your life is always missing'

14th February 1997 at 00:00
Off Limits: Refugee Voices Channel 4 Friday, February 14 10.40-11.05am Age group: 14-16

Anti-foreigner fervour seems as blatant in Britain now as in the days following Enoch Powell's notorious "Rivers of Blood" speech of 1968. But where Powell's utterances sparked off a furious debate, the latest xenophobic barrage from politicians is more often than not greeted with silence.

Against this backdrop, Channel 4 Schools' broadcast of "Refugee Voices", one of the term's two new productions for Off Limits, is certainly timely. In the absence of any substantive challenge to the claims of widespread abuse of asylum and immigration laws, this short but profoundly moving film presents realities that otherwise are not heard.

Producer and director, Michael Simons, has chosen five young people to tell their stories. Intercut with stark black and white footage to complement their eloquent and often harrowing narratives, these stories of persecution and escape should help young people to question the tabloid image of many refugees as little more than welfare cheats.

Giang is a young woman who, at the age of five, fled with her family from war-torn South Vietnam. She remembers the Viet Cong burning down her town.

Adil was 14 when he escaped the war in Somalia by making his way to Kenya on his own.

Jasmine and Saliha are sisters from Bosnia, who as young teenagers, saw their father being taken to the notorious Omarska concentration camp.

Filiz, a Turkish Kurd, also endured the imprisonment and torture of her father.

The five all made it to Britain in different ways: Adil stowed away on a boat after neighbours stole all his things. "That's when my nightmare started, " he says. Jasmine and Saliha walked from one refugee camp to another, where people told them to "get lost - we want you Muslims dead".

They each tell of their feelings of alienation on arriving in Britain. Adil feared being sent back because of his forged documentation and fainted when he went through immigration control.

He is now settled, but not emotionally comfortable. "I can never feel safe. When you're a refugee, some part of your life is always missing - your home. We're not seeking a better life by being here. We're seeking safety."

The combined effect of these strong testimonies, the grainy footage and enough, but not too many, facts and figures on refugees worldwide as well as in Britain, make this 20-minute film a powerful educational tool. It also acts as a rejoinder to the prevailing fallacies about refugees.

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