by Noor Hewaidi
Still from 'The Crossing'. Image Credit: Human Rights Watch Film Festival
The Crossing (2015) is a documentary that follows the challenges that a group of Syrian refugees face in leaving behind war zones but continuing to endure different struggles. One of the families whose story struck me was Afaf and Mustafa, a mother and son that made the journey from Egypt to Sweden together and faced dynamic difficulties in their resettlement processes. In following this family’s journey, I noticed an interesting experience of “transnationalism;” war continues to be experienced by refugees vicariously through communication means, like social media, apps like Viber and Skype, and YouTube videos. Family members and friends left behind make it difficult for refugees to fully “move out” of places of war. Although the refugees in the film left the Middle East for Europe, the bridge between these places was not burnt; they continued to be bystanders- even victims- of the very war which they had escaped. For instance, Afaf and her son, Mustafa, closely monitor eruptions of war by watching videos of incidents in Syria online. Even in the process of building their new lives, which included Mustafa enrolling in a new school and Afaf seeking ways to develop her skills for the workforce, they continued to experience their “old” lives through the internet. They were not immune to the social and psychological symptoms of war victimhood, regardless of their geographical dislocation from the place of war. This is noted in a scene where both Afaf and her son are very visibly distraught and teary at the sight of neighbourhoods they knew being bombed on video.
Social media has introduced a new means of cultural connectedness and carries very different social meanings to migrants and refugees than it perhaps would to non-migrants and non-refugees. The refugees in The Crossing constantly used their phones as necessary modes of connection and attachment to “back home.” I caught onto this because it reminded me of my own experience, as someone whose place of origin is also war struck, and who experienced this war through social media. When the Libyan revolt of February 2011 began, my immediate family was in Canada, where I grew up, but we actively engaged with both the uprising and the conflict which followed entirely through Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Importantly, my mother continues to maintain a very close watch on the war in Benghazi, sometimes consumed by it, until this day. Like Afaf and Mustafa, although she lives away from the conflict, she continues to see videos of bombings in places she knew, reads about violence and change in Benghazi on a daily basis, and keeps very close tabs on Libyan politics. Although she is removed from the war, she continues to experience symptoms of war victimhood by virtue of active transnational interactions- something I saw emulated in The Crossing. It’s important to understand that while refugees have moved to peaceful places and begun new lives in their host countries, like Scotland, their relationships to their home must still be listened to and understood. The experience of resettlement is complicated, especially when families are separated, which is something we as host societies must be attentive and empathetic to. I highly recommend this documentary, as it does an excellent job in portraying this situation.