Exodus: Our Journey to Europe

Mar 08 2018

Exodus: Our Journey to Europe

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Written by: Amanda Ruvolo


For my blog post I watched the PBS Frontline documentary called Exodus produced by James Bluemel. The 1 hour and 54-minute film took me on a journey through the lives of five different refugees and migrants who were seeking asylum in Europe. The first story followed a brave 11-year-old girl named Isra’a from Aleppo, Syria who was forced to leave her home after it has been bombed. Then the documentary switch over to a man named Hassan Akkad who was a former English teacher in northern Syria who was trying to relocate to the United Kingdom. The third story explained the journey of 21-year-old Alaigie, who was traveling from Serrekunda, Gambia to Italy in hopes of finding better opportunities to provide for his family. Then there was Ahmad from Aleppo, Syria who left his wife and daughter behind in hopes of gaining asylum in the United Kingdom so that he could eventually move them away from Syria. Finally, there was Sadiq who left Kabul, Afghanistan in hopes of finding a better and safer life in Finland.

Issa’a (right) and her father Tarek (left)

Each of their stories provided the real life insight on what it meant to be a refugee or migrant trying to find asylum in Europe. The film was unique in the fact that each of the stories were being filmed by the refugees themselves. Due to that realistic perspective, the documentary at some points was painstakingly heart breaking to watch. The all experienced immense difficulties through their journey.

Life-Threatening Moments

In this film, the people experienced life-threatening situations. When Isra’a’s family was at the Croatian border, children were dying from the cold temperature because they were not being granted access into the country and were forced to sit in mud in the pouring cold rain. This was often a typically occurrence where refugees were forced to wait outside and across borders because countries did not want to take them in.  Then there was a situation where Alagie was kidnapped in Libya and thrown into jail where the only way out was for his family to pay $1000. Unfortunately when traveling alone results in consequences like kidnapping, human trafficking and exploitation.  Later it showed Ahmad being trapped inside the back of a lorry for three days. He was trying to gain access into the United Kingdom and the only way he could achieve that was through hiding. For Hassan Akkad story, he risked his life multiple times by getting on boats that attempted to hold 60 people and took on water. The documentary show news reports illustrating that many refugees die annually because of these drownings. In 2015, 3,000 people died drowning trying to cross from Libya to Italy. A large result of the drownings were due to insufficient life jackets. In Turkey, there were smugglers attempting to make a profit from selling life jackets, but they were manufactured in a way that people to sink and drown instead of float. These refugees all went through this danger to be granted a life of safety for the future. Although each story had some worrisome components of their expedition, the documentary ended with the viewer having  a feeling of hopefulness because all they all successfully entered Europe and reached their destinations. While some are still awaiting to gain asylum, others like Hassan and Ahmad were granted it. According to the producer, James Bluemel, he has kept in constant contact with all of them and they are all doing fine.

Hassan Akkad filming his dangerous boating journey from Turkey to Greece

Why Does This Matter?

Although the people in this film achieved success with their journey, many people are not so luck. The documentary illustrates the extreme problems of not only the Syrian refugee crisis that is occurring, but the mass migration by other countries as well to find a better life for themselves. As the years go on, millions of people are trying to seek refuge in Europe. Whether it is political corruption, war or poverty a lot of people have had no choice, but to leave their country. A lot of migrants are unaware of Europe’s chaotic state on how to deal with the mass influx of people so they keep relying on it as a valid escape destination. As a result, unfortunately, many countries are not willing to open their borders to the refugees. In 2015 over 1 million people snuck in Europe. Snuck, not granted access or helped, but refugees taking initiative to escape the horrors and struggles of their home countries.

Refugees trying to get some rest with the little supplies they have.

The migration and the relocation of millions of people is an issue that needs to be addressed more seriously. After learning in class that Europe only takes in 6% of all the people who are seeking asylum is honestly heartbreaking and disturbing. Although I understand that overpopulation and limited space is a concern, refugees cannot be simply left behind and forgotten. It is important to acknowledge that no one who is seeking refuge asked for this; this could occur anywhere in the world. I believe it is so critical for Europe to take more action due to the fact that its location lies so close in proximity to issues where this is occurring. Action needs to be taken. Although I do not know how, the reality is that these people need our help. We cannot simply turn a blind eye to those who just happened to have unfortunately circumstances. As James Bluemel once said, “It’s important to unmake and humanize, and remind people that the is a human tragedy”.

Final Thoughts

I would highly recommend this documentary. This video truly puts into perspective what millions of people are dealing with on an everyday basis. The real live footage of each family allows the viewer to be emotionally drawn into each story. Allow though it is a long film to watch, it goes by quickly because of the face-paced movement of each person’s footage. There are subtitles whenever a different language is being spoken which makes the documentary easier to follow. This move is also easily accessible online by just typing Exodus PBS documentary. Exodus (2016) in 2017 won the award for Best Factual Series and Best Director: Factual at the British Academy Television Craft Awards. This documentary also won an Emmy at the International Emmy Awards for Best Documentary in 2017.  Since the release of the original documentary in 2016, Bluemel has created a sequel that was aired in January 2018 called Exodus: The Journey Continues where he once again shows the intimate stories of refugees and migrants that are caught in Europe’s tightened borders. His new documentary is obviously more relevant to what is occurring today, but they both elicit the overall theme of refugees struggles and their plea for help.



Awards. (n.d.). Retrieved March 08, 2018, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5905508/awards

Bluemel, J. (Producer). (2016). Exodus. Frontline, PBS. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/exodus/

Boghandi , P. (2016, December 27). Finding the Human Stories in Europe’s Refugee Crisis. Retrieved March 08, 2018, from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/finding-the-human-stories-in-europes-refugee-crisis/

Harrison, E. (2017, August 10). How Exodus: Our Journey to Europe was filmed – and why it might have prevented Brexit. Retrieved March 08, 2018, from http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2016-07-13/how-exodus-our-journey-to-europe-was-filmed-and-why-it-might-have-prevented-brexit/

Migrant crisis: Turkey police seize fake life jackets. (2016, January 06). Retrieved March 08, 2018, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35241813

PBS. (2016, December 02). Exodus | Trailer | FRONTLINE. Retrieved March 08, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BvIMMuX14Q

Syrian refugee crisis: Facts, FAQs, and how to help. (2018, March 01). Retrieved March 08, 2018, from https://www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/syrian-refugee-crisis-facts







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