"I don't know if it's my right to be in the UK or not, but it's my right also to not be in Syria, it's my right to be in a safe place."
- Thaer, 28, from Syria
Produced by Katie Hindley and directed by Jack Collins, The Refugee Diaries is one of Rogan Productions' latest online documentary series. The Refugee Diaries follows a young asylum seeker, Thaer Batal, who after leaving his beloved hometown where his house had been reduced to rubble in an airstrike, travelled across Europe in a quest to find a brighter future in the UK. Arrival is often seen as the reward after months travelling in life threatening conditions, but the reality is that once refugees arrive in the UK the journey has only just begun.
We wanted to show the reality of the experience of a refugee trying to start a new life in a foreign land
Using modern and innovative filmmaking techniques, Jack and Katie set out to create a series that would cut through the mass of news covering the Syrian conflict and migrant crisis, and tell very personal stories focusing on what happens once a refugee arrives in the UK.
Jack explains: "People assume that once someone claims asylum it's plain sailing and they're looked after unconditionally. We knew from our extensive research talking to refugees first hand, as well as charities dealing with these situations that this is far from the truth. To start with, the odds are stacked against refugees claiming asylum in the UK - most applications are rejected. Then if someone is accepted it's hugely challenging to find accommodation, work, education, etc. All basic things that we take for granted. So we wanted to show the reality of the experience of a refugee trying to start a new life in a foreign land."
Jack and Katie decided to favour UGC (user-generated-content) over their own filming wherever possible, as Thaer's home videos give a very intimate and personal insight into his life. Through the lens of his camera, Thaer was able to tell his story from his own perspective.
"Our own filming was about finding moments in Thaer's life that we were particularly well placed to capture. For example, there are scenes of him interacting with other people or more visual sequences like when he's exploring London and taking in the famous landmarks. His own video diaries where he talks to camera and relays his experiences punctuate the footage we filmed and Thaer's own recordings. It's where we are directly addressed by Thaer, that we found our strongest moments." says Jack. “The aim of this series is to develop a feeling of optimism but also a deeper understanding of the Syrian war and the refugee crisis. Despite experiencing the worst of humanity, Thaer has high dreams and ambitions and The Refugee Diaries shows him trying his best to succeed when the odds are stacked against him. I'd want people to see that refugees are just like us - they have hopes, dreams, families and ambitions, and as a society we should try our best to help rather than shut them away".
The third episode of The Refugee Diaries has been nominated for a Grierson Award for Best Documentary Short.