IOM spokesperson Sandra Black welcomes people to the Global Migration Film Festival. Photo: AC Robinson/Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – With protracted displacement of Iraqis and Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region, a film festival hopes to shine a spotlight on the experiences of these communities and build connections with their hosts.
Erbil is one city 101 worldwide hosts of the International Organization of Migration's (IOM) third annual Global Migration Film Festival. This year’s edition is centred on the theme ‘The Promise and Challenge of Migration, and the Positive Contributions Migrants Make to Their New Communities
"The migration film festival aims to promote a better understanding of the migrant experience and contributions that migrants can make to their communities," IOM spokesperson Sandra Black told Rudaw English at Tuesday’s opening night.
More than 4 million Iraqis have returned to their homes since ISIS was defeated in the country, but over 1.8 million are still displaced. The Kurdistan Region is hosting nearly 1.2 million Iraqis and more than 280,000 refugees, mainly from Syria.
"We know that migrants bring skills and new ideas and they often open businesses and contribute to the economic growth of the location that they move to," Black explained.
"It's important for people in Iraq and elsewhere in the world to have an understanding of the migrant experience because this is a human experience, very relevant to Iraq with the displacement that we've had here, but we are pleased that community members can come together," she added.
Dozens of film-goers showed up for the opening night at Relish Restaurant's theatre, enjoying food and drinks while watching the films on offer.
The films showing on opening night to the packed theatre hall included a short film "Abu Adnan
" (Adnan's Father), directed by Sylvia Le Fanu, about a father and son, refugees from Syria who moved to Denmark. The film looks at how the challenges of integration affected their relationship.
The second film screened was "Homestories – Three Siblings and a War
," directed by Kathrin Eckert. The documentary tells the story of three siblings from Bosnia and Herzegovina whose happy childhood was interrupted when they had to flee to Germany to escape conflict. It tells the story of the family's attempt to reconcile their separation and realities.
One attendee, Gulnara Kenzhebulatova, originally from Kazakhstan, said Erbil is an important setting for this festival.
"If the same festival was held in say Moscow, people may not relate as much as they do here," she said.
Acknowledging that the issue of migration is a global one, she said the films held a certain poignancy when screened in a country so affected by conflict and forced migration.
"The first film which we saw today is exactly about different kinds of people that I've met here and I know that many people in this room have met people like the characters in the film,” Kenzhebulatova explained.
The festival offers free admission. “The Merger
" will be shown on Thursday, December 13 and three films – "Mohamed, The First Name
", and "Unbroken Paradise
" – as well as short films created by young filmmakers in the Kurdistan Region will be screened on Monday, December 17 at Relish Restaurant.
The festival will also travel throughout Iraq, with screenings planned in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, and in IDP and refugee camps and community centres.
"We're happy that many families have been able to go back home," IOM's Black said. "But we say for the 1.8 million Iraqis that are still displaced, there's a very challenging situation of their homes being destroyed which is the number one reason right now for Iraqis not being able to go back home."
IOM along with other humanitarian organizations have plans to help Iraqis rebuild their homes and they “look forward to continuing to work in the upcoming year on these challenging issues," Black added.