Project Trailer

 

Production Outline:
 

  • Karen refugees in Mae Sot, Thailand - Production wrapped
  • Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh - Post Production Stage: Fundraising for translations
  • Afghan refugees in Peshawar, Pakistan - Production wrapped
  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan - In production
  • European Returnees in Erbil, Iraq - Pre-Production
  • Resettlements in Lesvos, Greece - 1st Production Stage Wrapped, 2nd in research phase
  • Resettlements in Hamburg, Germany - Pre-production, Research Phase
  • European & Pakistan returnees in Kabul, Afghanistan - Pre-Production

 

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Your donations will go exclusively towards production and post production costs, such as hiring crew, local fixers and translators at reasonable day rates, security if necessary, video transcription, subtitles, scoring and colour grading.

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The Afghan Story - Peshawar, Pakistan

Sometimes it’s safe to repatriate after a few years, sometimes after a few generations. What does it mean to return to a home you’ve never been to? This was the question that we were confronted with in Peshawar, Pakistan as we followed one Afghan families’ journey across the border.

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What's the situation?

After the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, as much as 4 million Afghan refugees sheltered in Pakistan at one point. During a progression of invasions and instability, from the US to the civil war to the Taliban, the numbers have fluctuated over the decades. As of 2018, Pakistan still has 1.4 million registered and over half a million unregistered refugees, one of the biggest refugee populations in the world over one of the most protracted timelines.

Last year saw the severe reduction of resettlement to third countries, hardened borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan and unsatisfactory solutions to expiring registered Afghan ID cards, leaving Afghans living in Pakistan increasingly vulnerable. Many are faced with the choice of living under inhumane conditions as second class citizens versus living in a country prone to danger and instability.

 Peshawar, the gateway to Pakistan's tribal territories, houses some of the countries' largest Afghan populations. 

Peshawar, the gateway to Pakistan's tribal territories, houses some of the countries' largest Afghan populations. 

Why is this happening?

2002 saw the largest surge in Afghans crossing into Pakistan in recent times, due to the US invasion of Afghanistan. The mentality in Pakistan had changed little since the times of Zia Ul-Haq’s (President 1978-1988) declaration that the Afghans are Pakistan’s brothers, to be treated with hospitality. Considering the overlapping Pashtun culture between the two countries, there was a relatively easy mix of cultures.

But everything changed in 2014 after a Taliban attack on a Peshawar school left 149 dead. 

The narrative shifted after this massacre, with Afghans being painted as terrorists (all the attackers were foreign affiliates, including 2 Afghans). The border, which had remained fairly porous through the decades, hardened. This made movement between the two countries more restricted and separated families.

Most Afghan refugees held PoR (Proof of Registration) ID cards that validated their residency in Pakistan, but they were set to expire in 2015. Thus, 2016 saw the largest numbers of Afghan repatriations (300k-400k) with an increased cash incentive of $400 provided by UNHCR encashment centres in Afghanistan and land grants provided by the Afghan government, which sought to incentivise Afghan returns to aid in rebuilding the country.

 UNHCR's Voluntary Repatriation Centre in Azakhel, Nowshera, about 40 kilometres east of Peshawar, has the capacity to facilitate the return of up to 10,000 refugees every day through the Torkham border crossing.

UNHCR's Voluntary Repatriation Centre in Azakhel, Nowshera, about 40 kilometres east of Peshawar, has the capacity to facilitate the return of up to 10,000 refugees every day through the Torkham border crossing.

 Biometrics are a key part of the process to de-register Afghan refugees from the NADRA system.

Biometrics are a key part of the process to de-register Afghan refugees from the NADRA system.

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But Afghanistan is a country falling slowly to insurgency with the return of the Taliban and increased presence of ISIL-Khorasan. Bombings and indiscriminate attacks have been a hallmark of 2018. Jalalabad saw so much violence even during our time in Pakistan that security has been ceded from the police to the army and the encashment centre located there has had operations suspended. 

Meanwhile in Pakistan, the army is increasingly clamping down on Afghan nationals through arrests and detentions, targeting those who attend rallies or large gatherings and who increasingly don’t hold valid PoR cards. Non-Governmental organisations like SHARP-Pakistan train local police and members of Pakistan’s legal system regarding international law, but Pakistan is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention on Human Rights, making their refugee policies irregular and ad-hoc. As of the past 2 years, resettlements to third countries have dwindled to functionally zero, leaving few options for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

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What’s being done?

Policy changes are under way in Pakistan. A key cabinet meeting on Feb 7, 2017 laid out a framework for dealing with the issue. It was undertaken to register any and all unregistered Afghan nationals living in Pakistan (refugees not included), the start of a visa regime between the countries and dialogue regarding refugee law, initiated by SHARP and taken over by UNHCR. It also extended the validity of the PoR cards to Dec 31, 2017.

This means that border crossings without valid visas are no longer tolerated. The ad-hoc style 3-5 month extensions on PoR cards is a process that has continued into late 2018, leaving those who are applying for jobs or university spots in precarious situations. Saffron, the government entity in charge of these extensions, is lacking in capacity to actually create new cards.

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A target of 700k repatriations was set for 2017 but only 59,020 (figured provided by SHARP) actually took place. Between January 2018 and July 2018, 93,016 repatriations (2424 families)  took place. The repatriation cash grant provided by UNHCR has reduced from $400 to $200 and Afghanistan continues falling to insurgency.

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Yet still, families make the decision to return on a daily basis. The family that Somewhere Films ended up following was one such case. Their repatriation story starts with the head of the family, Abdul Ghafoor, deciding it was time to go home, much to the dismay of everyone else. His wife, a local Pakistani woman and their children, all born and raised in Pakistan, had little say in the matter. 

Their home was in Chitral, a famously hospitable region of Pakistan closely bordering Afghanistan, which is where Abdul fled to after Soviet forces demolished his village in Nuristan, Afghanistan. They are shopkeepers and all children have been able to attend school, the oldest son for 12 grades. They are headed to Kabul, the most secure city in an insecure country, starting life anew.

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The Rohingya Story - Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

The Rohingya were relatively unknown in international news until just last summer. The BBC reports that since then, when Myanmar’s military began its violence against them, the sprawling camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh became the largest in the world, housing over 900,000 Rohingya fleeing violence in Rakhine State.

 Hundreds of Rohingya continue to flee into Bangladesh daily and the camps are growing in response, with new construction breaking ground in Kutupalong Camp.

Hundreds of Rohingya continue to flee into Bangladesh daily and the camps are growing in response, with new construction breaking ground in Kutupalong Camp.

 

What's happening?

Despite new refugees arriving daily, the two governments intend to send the Rohingya back within a 2 year timeframe. They will not be going back to their homes, which have largely been burnt down, but instead to languish indefinitely in camps built by the Myanmar military. There they will stay, until they can prove their previous residency in Myanmar, a feat made nearly impossible because most of their possessions were incinerated by that same military. The repatriation deal struck with Myanmar does not guarantee the killing will stop.

We could not find this repatriation plan confirmed anywhere in the media at large until six days before it was set to begin. Neither nation consulted the Rohingya themselves.

 A mother and child amidst the temporary shelters built by refugees with materials supplied by aid organisations such as IOM and UNHCR, in Kutupalong Camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

A mother and child amidst the temporary shelters built by refugees with materials supplied by aid organisations such as IOM and UNHCR, in Kutupalong Camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

 

Why is it happening?

The reasons behind the Rohingya persecution are complex and a topic of fervent controversy. Up until 2012, Myanmar, was a military dictatorship, but the transfer of power to an at least functionally democratic system has created tensions in Rhakine State.

Myanmar recognises 135 "official ethnicities" as being native to the country. Despite decent evidence of long being settled in Rhakine, the Rohingya are not counted among these and are largely painted to be Bangladeshi migrants. This status makes them a stateless people, lacking ID cards and voting rights. If they were enfranchised, the Muslim Rohingya vote could (at least prior to over a million fleeing) pose a substantial opposition to the Buddhist Rhakine vote.

The current border between Myanmar and Bangladesh didn't exist under British Colonial times and Muslim and Hindu Indians and Bengalis once made up large numbers of Myanmar's population. This history, along with the rising spectre of Islamic terrorism, has contributed to a growing siege mentality in Rhakine, aggravated by increasingly nationalist Buddhist groups such as 969 and Ma Ba Tha. 

Rhakine State, like the rest of Myanmar's borderland territories, is also rich in natural resources. Ramree Island, off its coast, now serves as the western terminus of oil and gas pipelines linking the Indian Ocean with China's southern Yunnan Province, a route that bypasses the narrow, U.S.-patrolled Strait of Malacca. 

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What's being done?

The stories of persecution committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar are immense, condemned by the international community, frequently labeled as ethnic cleansing yet inexplicably falling short of being declared genocide. Such a label would require definitive action against Myanmar, including sanctions and withdrawal of foreign investments.

The incentive for Myanmar to 'play nice' and welcome the Rohingya back are not hard to see, yet granting them their primary request of being recognised as citizens is something we fear will never be granted. What will they repatriate to?

Most refugees in the camps (of which 55% are children) either haven’t heard of the repatriation deal or have done so through news outlets or from community rumor, as nobody is talking directly with them, never mind consulting them on their views regarding their safety and concerns for the future.

The UNHCR strongly condemns the current repatriation deal and upholds that conditions guaranteeing Rohingya safety in Myanmar have not been met. To donate to UNHCR, go to https://donate.unhcr.org/int-en/rohingya

Photos shot by Anna Dobos and Shireen Hinckley. Many of our projects are self funded. To support our work, you can donate through our fiscal sponsor: https://www.fracturedatlas.org/s…/FiscalSponsorship/profile…

The Karen Story - Mae Sot, Thailand

Few people might realise that the world's longest running civil war is taking place on the edges of Myanmar and Thailand. This 70 year conflict between the Myanmar military and the countries' ethnic minorities has left hundreds of thousands displaced, an entire generation growing up in Thai refugee camps.

Mae Sot is one of three official land border crossing points between Thailand and Myanmar and has economically been dependent on a thriving community of NGOs and aid workers. Their mandates are directed at the largely ethnic Karen Burmese refugees living in the camps dotted along the Myanmar border.

 A biography of Aung San, father of Aung San Su Kyi, was known as the founder of the Burmese Military, and is considered the father of modern-day Myanmar and the founder of the Communist Party of Burma. His daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, is the current leader of Myanmar.

A biography of Aung San, father of Aung San Su Kyi, was known as the founder of the Burmese Military, and is considered the father of modern-day Myanmar and the founder of the Communist Party of Burma. His daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, is the current leader of Myanmar.

Between 1962 and 2011 Myanmar (formerly Burma), had been one of the world’s longest running military dictatorships. In 2012, democratic elections were held, bringing longtime democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi to power. Western countries began lifting economic sanctions, increasing development aid and writing off billions of dollars of Burma’s foreign debt. The Karen National Union (KNU) signed a tentative ceasefire and the Panglong 21 Peace Process sought to end 70 years of insurgency in the country’s borderlands.

This then starts the conversation, “Is it safe to go home?”

 We spoke off the record with UNHCR Thailand's Repatriation Officer and Senior Field Coordinator regarding the current repatriation policies and procedures and the difficulties being faced by all sides.

We spoke off the record with UNHCR Thailand's Repatriation Officer and Senior Field Coordinator regarding the current repatriation policies and procedures and the difficulties being faced by all sides.

The consensus from both the refugee communities and UNHCR, for the time being, is “not yet” or more accurately “it depends who you are and where you’re going.” 

The more people we spoke with the more we realized how this ties into a bigger issue: nobody knows what’s going on, and it’s stressing everyone out.

With diminishing food rations and many aid organizations relocating from the Thai camps into Myanmar, some feel that the Thai government, which does not allow naturalization or any pathways to assimilation, wishes to nudge them out by making conditions unlivable.

Over in Myanmar, investment can and likely will make positive changes over time, and while those who are ethnically Burmese might be benefiting from the new government and economic stimulus, the situation is much more complicated for ethnic minorities. 

Myanmar has a history of government (and thus military) involvement in development projects, many of which are focused on the resource-rich, semi-autonomous states that many refugees have fled from.

Physicians for Human Rights found that human rights violations in Karen areas were up to ten times more prevalent in areas with development projects as compared to other areas (Davis et al., 2012). Karen Human Rights Group’s (KHRG) recent report also indicates that natural resource extraction and business projects fuel human rights violations in the Karen State (KHRG, 2013a). Similar findings around development projects have been found in other parts of the country (see e.g. Human Rights Watch, 2012c). 

— via Burma Link

Access to the refugee camps in Thailand has been restricted purely to aid organisations, most of which also are not allowed to stay overnight. Somewhere Films spent three weeks in Mae Sot, doing research, conducting interviews and making connections. 

Mae Sot has the air of a dying town as NGOs are shuttering their doors and moving house to Myanmar. But though NGOs might be leaving, more Burmese seem to be arriving. Due to the relaxing border policies and the newly available day passes that we had also utilized, they come into Thailand to buy local goods which they then take back and sell in Myanmar. We also got to know the local migrant art community, with whom we spent much of our time behind the camera.

  Patrick Sone Lin Htoo  is a Burmese filmmaker we met during a weekend of fundraising for the  Mae Tao Clinic , in Mae Sot, Thailand, which like many NGOs in the area, has seen its funding rapidly diminish over the past year. Patrick has been shooting different film series based around the lives and experiences of refugees in the camps around area. The bigger project he has in the works is a feature length documentary on a once child political prisoner of Myanmar who was arrested some 15 years ago for handing out pamphlets that challenged the military government.

Patrick Sone Lin Htoo is a Burmese filmmaker we met during a weekend of fundraising for the Mae Tao Clinic, in Mae Sot, Thailand, which like many NGOs in the area, has seen its funding rapidly diminish over the past year. Patrick has been shooting different film series based around the lives and experiences of refugees in the camps around area. The bigger project he has in the works is a feature length documentary on a once child political prisoner of Myanmar who was arrested some 15 years ago for handing out pamphlets that challenged the military government.

 Maung Maung, a refugee from Karen State in Myanmar, has been living in Mae Sot since 1995. Maung Maung has been been able to use his art as a means of seeing the rest of the world, but still deeply desires to return to his village one day. So far, the situation hasn't been safe enough for him to do so.

Maung Maung, a refugee from Karen State in Myanmar, has been living in Mae Sot since 1995. Maung Maung has been been able to use his art as a means of seeing the rest of the world, but still deeply desires to return to his village one day. So far, the situation hasn't been safe enough for him to do so.

 Wuna Zaw is a Burmese migrant from Yangon, who has been living in Mae Sot since 2002. He splits his time between making his own art in Mae Sot and teaching at many different migrant and monastery schools across the border Myawaddy, Myanmar. He strongly believes that academic as well as artistic education will be the saving grace of Myanmar's future.

Wuna Zaw is a Burmese migrant from Yangon, who has been living in Mae Sot since 2002. He splits his time between making his own art in Mae Sot and teaching at many different migrant and monastery schools across the border Myawaddy, Myanmar. He strongly believes that academic as well as artistic education will be the saving grace of Myanmar's future.

 Thai military at 'Friendship Bridge', the only open land border crossing between Thailand and Myanmar.

Thai military at 'Friendship Bridge', the only open land border crossing between Thailand and Myanmar.

 Burmese children wearing Thanaka at a Buddhist monastery school in Myawaddy. The monastery schools are set up for children who are unable to afford the school uniforms or supplies necessary for the state run schools.

Burmese children wearing Thanaka at a Buddhist monastery school in Myawaddy. The monastery schools are set up for children who are unable to afford the school uniforms or supplies necessary for the state run schools.

 

For better or worse, Mae Sot reflects the seismic shifts taking place in the countries that surround it, and the uncertain future that looms ahead.

 

 

To Get More Information

Burma Link 

This online resource has been invaluable to our research on this issue, and if this topic interests you there is no better place to do a proper deep dive. We had the chance to meet with and do some work for Burma Link's enigmatic and low profile founder, who coordinates most of the website's content on her own.

You can donate to Burma Link through Paypal at the bottom of their website.

Karen News 

Local news on all things Karen related, reported from the ground.

UNCHR Thailand 

 

Local Organizations that Need Support

Mae Tao Clinic 

The Australian government announced that it will cut all of the AUSD 450,000 funding it gives to the clinic due to shifting their priority to prepare for refugee repatriation 

— Karen News, 2013 via Burma Link

(You can donate to the clinic here)

The Border Consortium 

The TBC has also been severely affected by funding cuts, which have forced the consortium to cut food rations and cease the provision of all non-food items, with the exception of cooking stoves and donated items, even to new arrivals 

— TBC, 2013 via Burma Link

Kickstart Art 

Borderline Art Collective 

In addition to being a gallery space and retail outlet for goods made by the Karen Women Organization, Borderline also has an excellent cafe. Many of our days were spent eating the amazing and sustainably made Burmese food here while working on our laptops.

Karen Women Organization 

Youth Connect 

PuzzleBox Art Studio 

 

Papers

Bordering Repatriation: A psychosocial perspective on the experience and preparation of return 

A combined dissertation of Social Psychology and Cultural Encounter by Christa Kløve Kranich submitted January, 2017.

Voice of Refugees

https://www.burmalink.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/27.04.05-Voices-of-Refugees-Along-Thailand-Burma-Border.pdf

Invisible Lives: The Untold Story of Displacement Cycle in Burma

Written and published by Human Rights Foundation of Monland, Burma Link and Burma Partnership August 2016

https://www.burmalink.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/FINAL-Eng-IDP-Report.pdf

 

Books

Freedom from Fear by Aung San Suu Kyi

Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin

The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma by Thant Myint-U

Burmese Days by George Orwell