“Welcome (2009) is a French movie and it tells the story of a young Iraqi-Kurd refugee, Bilal Kayani (Firat Ayverdi), who dreams to cross the English Channel from Calais, France to the UK. Hoping to be reunited with his girlfriend Mina (Derya Ayverdi) who’s already settled down in England with her family. After a long tough journey, he finally arrives in Calais. He discovers that there are hundreds of refugees who want to cross over the channel to England. It is then that he meets a French swimming coach, Simon Calmat (Vincent Lindon) and a friendship forms between them. I am originally from Turkey and I used to live close to the Turkish-Syrian border. The Syrian war started when I was eleven years old and many people fled to Turkey. So I was always seeing refugees in the streets. It’s not that my parents are racist, but I noticed that they and many others did not really have much sympathy for these people. It is during that time that I saw this movie and I was connecting it to me and my daily life.”
“The film Welcome (2009) touched me in a way that Tarkovsky once mentioned, “relating a person to the whole world. That is the meaning of cinema.” Welcome portrays Bilal’s dangerous journey, his arrival in Calais, people placing ‘welcome signs’ in front of their houses and road billboards, but they won’t welcome refugees as strangers into their houses. The movie isn’t about emotional exploitation and that’s a good thing. The movie is neutral, allowing you to form your own opinion. It doesn’t push you like how populist media, which is on the rise in Europe, stimulate hatred and racism. Based on the film I concluded that nobody leaves their home by choice. Nobody becomes a refugee just out of nowhere. Only when they are in danger or forced to leave. Realizing this I would obsessively conduct my own research on the internet. I found out how French citizens who were helping the refugees got arrested or had to face persecution. I would also look up the number of refugees, the conflicts in the world, rights movements and more. Many years later there is still a big camp and Macron said that the refugees were at a dead end. Nowadays it’s quiet in the media. Most people have forgotten about the situation.”
“About two years ago I discovered a Turkish jazz singer, Karsu Dönmez, who is based in the Netherlands. I instantly became her fan and when I moved to the Netherlands to study I found out that she was busy with a project that regards refugees. When I took a better look at the project I found out that they needed a social media manager. So I immediately applied, even though I had no experience, I was just super enthused and I thought at least I can help create awareness from a distance. The organization is called Happy Caravan and it was started by a former Syrian refugee who fled to the Netherlands. When he finally settled in the Netherlands he decided to help out at refugee camps and that inspired him to start his own refugee school. Eventually, they gave me the opportunity to go to Thermopylae, Greece to teach English, math, art, meet their families and support other activities at the Happy Caravan refugee camp school. All of this inspired me so much that I actually decided that I want to be a human rights activist and work at an NGO.”
Photo and story by Feargal Agard.