Filming This Syrian Family Broke My Heart

In Refugee Crisis on April 4, 2016 at 22:16

By Sharron Ward

It’s his eyes that I can’t forget.

It was Thursday August 27 2015, just after dawn on a beach on the northern coast of the island of Lesvos.

An inflatable rubber dinghy heavily weighed down and overloaded with Syrians was making its way precariously across the rough sea.

As soon as it neared the rocky shore, dozens of orange lifejackets rose up and disgorged themselves hurling unceremoniously out of the boat, some falling into the sea as they did.

Anonymous arms reached out from the shore to take the bedraggled babies and small children, who appeared disoriented and traumatised, staring into space.  A cry rose up.

And then I saw her.

An older Syrian woman wearing a white hijab stumbled to the shore.

No longer able to contain her grief she fell to the ground, her hands clasping her face as a wave of anguish, tears and relief swept over her.

1 Alma on shore

A Dutch volunteer comforted her.

And then he came to her side.

A middle-aged Syrian man still wearing his orange life jacket.  He held her as she sobbed.

He was her son.

They were soon joined by her daughter who was wearing a blue velour track suit.  Seeing her mother’s distress, she too cried.

5 daughter cries

Paradise Lost

In Refugee Crisis on April 4, 2016 at 21:58

“We have the right to get that paper!”

Filmmaker Sharron Ward writes on her troubling experience filming hundreds of refugees who washed ashore on the Greek island of Lesvos during the Summer of 2015.  Syrian and other refugees and migrants leave the hell of war in the Middle East to arrive in what they think is paradise on the shores of Europe – but instead they find a new kind of purgatory.  

“We have the right to get that paper, my dear, we have the right!”  Seven months pregnant, Syrian refugee Hasana implored.  We were sitting in the dirt in a layby outside the small village of Sikiminia on the island of Lesvos.

Hasana in bg

An Afghan baby lies in the dirt of a layby with her family after arriving at a makeshift transit camp on the island of Lesvos in Greece. Hasana from Syria sits in a white hijab behind them. They all arrived from Turkey in an inflatable dinghy. As the refugees are undocumented arrivals until they walk 65 kms to the south of the island to register with the police, they are not allowed to pay for a taxi, a restuarant or a hotel. © Sharron Ward

It was quickly getting dark and Hasana, a Human Resources manager, her Accountant husband and her two young children sat perched upon the life jackets they had used in their perilous journey across the sea in a flimsy inflatable dinghy from Turkey.  It was the only thing they had to sit on to protect them from the dirty gravel underneath.

Hasana told me that they used to live in the UAE city of Dubai, but they moved back to Damascus a few years ago to be with their family.  Now with bombings “constantly everyday” in the capital of Syria, they had fled in fear for their lives.  They had money and they wanted to get a hotel, to eat in the local restaurant and to go to the toilet. They hadn’t eaten for two days and Hasana was pregnant.

Sea of Human Misery

In Refugee Crisis on April 4, 2016 at 21:34

By Sharron Ward.

This is the long version of the blog I wrote of my experience covering the refugee crisis on the island of Lesvos over the summer of 2015.  The shortened version appeared on Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Filmmaker Sharron Ward writes about her personal encounters filming the hundreds of refugees who washed ashore bereft and broken on the Greek island of Lesvos during the summer.

I first heard about refugees washing up on the shores of Lesvos from friends on Facebook way back in January. They told me that while on holiday in the south of the island, they had woken in the middle of the night to find a soaking wet Syrian family with a new born baby on their balcony.  They had nearly drowned at sea as their flimsy boat had capsized.  A large focus of my work has been documenting the plight of Syrian refugees across the Middle East, but nothing prepared me for filming the desperate mass exodus that washed ashore on Lesvos this summer.


Refugees arrive on an inflatable dinghy from Turkey. © Sharron Ward

On the first day I found myself in the village carpark of Molyvos, which was being used as a makeshift transit camp providing a brief respite for the hundreds of mainly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis who had endured the perilous journey across the sea from Turkey in flimsy inflatable dinghies.  They arrived to find themselves on an ill-equipped Greek island that had little or no infrastructure for the thousands of lost souls who had washed up on its shores.


Refugees in a makeshift transit camp fall asleep from exhaustion having just arrived on the island of Lesvos in a rubber dinghy from Turkey. © Sharron Ward

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