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Refugees

Video project gives a voice to refugees in Germany

Many people talk about refugees, but very few people actually talk to them. A video clip competition organized by a foundation fighting racism is trying to change that by helping migrants express themselves.

A young man is standing at a bus stop. A woman is sitting on the bench, reading a newspaper. The man sits beside her; the woman pulls her handbag closer and turns away from him.

In the next scene the man is walking through a dark underpass, at the end of which a young blonde woman is standing on the steps. When she sees the man, she turns and runs away. In the third scene, the man is back at the bus stop. A young woman with dreadlocks sits down and smiles at him. This time it's the man who gets up and leaves.

These are scenes from one of 63 videos entered for the video competition, "Aus meiner Sicht” [From my perspective], in which people who have fled their homes present their views on their respective homelands, their escape and life in Germany. The "Stiftung gegen Rassismus," an organization working against racist prejudices, initiated the competition in cooperation with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF).

Project advisor Paula Scherer comments that people talk a lot about refugees, but very few actually talk to them. "We want to give refugees the opportunity to present their view of things, for once: their desires, ideas and criticisms," she says,

'I want the same things as you'

The videos showcase a wide range of feelings and views. They look at traumatic experiences such as torture, that haunt refugees in their nightmares even here, in their new homeland. They look at exclusion, prejudices and fear, but also the relief of finally being able to settle somewhere. Some videos convey a difficult message; others are critical, while others still are light, humorous, full of hope. Sometimes the protagonist speaks straight into the camera; sometimes several refugees act out scenes from when they first arrived in Germany. Sometimes the video consists of images of Bremen accompanied by a soundtrack of Syrian music. There's also an animated film.

24-year-old Abdullah Alaliwee is one of those who entered the competition. He comes from the Syrian city of Idlib, and has been living in Germany for two years, in a village on the Dutch border. He's training to be an insurance salesman. Abdullah speaks practically perfect German - without ever having attended a German course, he emphasizes proudly. YouTube clips helped him learn the language quickly.

He participated in "From My Perspective” to try and defuse prejudices. "Germany is a country with many religions and people from different cultures. In my video, I'd like to show that we can live together peacefully,” he says in his film, as he wanders through a Christmas market.

Countering stereotypes

"I've noticed that many protagonists feel under pressure to justify themselves," says Paula Scherer. "Many of them say, 'I also just want to live peacefully. I also want the same things as you.' This is a message I've seen a lot."

Some videos deal with bureaucratic difficulties in Germany or with hostilities and stereotypes. But in most of the reports, says Scherer, the image of Germany is a positive one. Many of the participants are glad to be here, have made friends and have reoriented themselves professionally. "I'm happy that I'm in Germany,” says Abdullah Alaliwee. "If we're given a chance, and some help, we can do a lot!"

The people running the project were surprised by how often the participants had worked together in groups. In many cases, filmmakers and refugees joined forces, says Scherer. There's been a great response to the project: "Our feeling was that the participants had a tremendous need to show their point of view for once as well.”

On December 10, the "Stiftung gegen Rassismus" announced the winners of the competition. The first prize of 1,000 euros  (1,060 dollars) went to a refugee group from Hamburg for their video clip on prejudices faced by migrants. Nadym Hwry, originally from Syria, won the second prize - and 500 euros (530 dollars) for a clip he made together with German filmmaker Christian Suhr. The third prize was shared by Eritrean refugee Aster-Walter Fassaye and Ami Beno Awlime from Togo. Both won gift coupons worth 250 euros (265 dollars). - ed.