It’s hard to imagine giving birth in a foreign land, without one’s relatives or a home. Having had to flee a war-torn country, leaving everything behind. That’s the reality of many Syrian women who fled from a devastating war that led to a refugee crisis.
In 2016, thousands of Syrian refugees fled to Europe, escaping the bombs and the terror of ISIS, and dreaming of a new start. Of them, one in ten were pregnant women.
Paradise Without People is a moving, thought-provoking documentary produced by TIME Magazine and directed by Emmy-nominated journalist, Francesca Trianni. The documentary follows the journey of two Syrian women, Taimaa and Nour, who give birth in Greece while seeking asylum. It’s a bittersweet documentary. Tender and heartwarming, but extremely sad and frustrating. It will leave the audience shaken and have them questioning their conscience.
As viewers, we get a glimpse of the life in the Greek refugee camps, its harshness, and the bureaucratic nightmare involved with asylum-seeking. Families live in very basic tents, one next to the other, with very bad sanitary conditions and scarce commodities. There’s no playground for the children to spend their time; adults have nothing to do and nowhere to go. These families escaped from a devastating war hoping for a new life in a peaceful country.
Their journey was hard and dangerous, but the reality they come up against after arriving in Europe isn’t as they expected. Thousands of refugees are stranded in overcrowded refugee camps, in despicable conditions. Nour’s husband, Yousef, complains: “I wasn’t responsible for this war to have to run away and go from place to place and beg for diapers or beg different organizations for milk, and just sit like an animal and just eat, drink and sleep”.
It feels like they are nothing but mere witnesses to their lives, not owning it anymore. They don’t get to make the decisions, to choose. Before the war, they had a life in Syria: jobs, studies, dreams. Now they only have one another. Nour was a university student before she fled her hometown, and Taimaa worked as a music teacher. At this time, their dreams have changed: they both want to raise their children in a war-free country. “You don’t know the privilege of stability until it is taken from you”, says Taimaa.
Like the rest of the families in the camps, they patiently wait for a call from the Asylum Centre that will allow them to start building a new life. They won’t know their fate until later, in a face-to-face interview, when they will be told in what European country they can resettle. It’s not up to them. They might be lucky and end up in a country like Germany or The Netherlands, where most of them want to relocate to, or they might be sent to a small, unknown country like Estonia, with few immigrants and without a Muslim community.
The stories portrayed in Paradise Without People are heartbreaking, but the film is beautiful, full of very intimate scenes and poignant moments. Behind the feature, there’s a top-notch, all-female team, who managed to create an immaculate portrayal of a very crude reality. The visuals, aesthetic, music, and editing are perfectly balanced and accompany the story exquisitely. It’s the perfect mix between in-depth journalism and cinematic storytelling.
Paradise Without People is Francesca Trianni’s first film, but not the first time she worked with these families. She had already produced Finding Home, a year-long award-winning multimedia project on the Syrian refugee crisis, told by the story of three newborns, including Nour and Taimaa’s babies.
The documentary is currently screening online at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. This year’s edition is completely virtual, and the film can be purchased and screened on demand until 2 August 2020.