West African returnees use film to turn migration script | Movie theater

Dakar, Senegal – The last thing Aïssata Ndiaye remembers before waking up in a Moroccan hospital was shivering helplessly as she watched her friend Khadija – a young mother – drift away into the Mediterranean. The dinghy on which they were trying to cross the sea had just capsized. Ndiaye was only one of the few who managed to get back on board.

Ndiaye, who was only 21 at the time, had paid a woman more than one million CFA francs (about $1,700) to secure her passage from Tangier to Spain. She hoped to attend college once she arrived.

“I went through a lot of pain,” Ndiaye said. “I dreamed of traveling the world, and I did, but not the way I wanted.”

Every year, thousands of people find ingenious ways to travel from different parts of sub-Saharan Africa in an attempt to cross Europe in search of a better life and to escape conflict and persecution.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), some 2,400 people died or went missing trying to migrate to Europe in the first nine months of this year, more than in all of last year. About 1,200 deaths were recorded on the road from Libya to Italy. Others find themselves stranded in labor camps or in haphazard locations in remote parts of North Africa.

On average, more than half of Mediterranean crossings are unsuccessful.

Aïssata Ndiaye chats with guests at the opening of the Global Migration Film Festival at a rooftop bar in Dakar’s Plateau district [Portia Crowe/Al Jazeera]

During Ndiaye’s trip in 2019, four of his friends died. She found herself alone and says she was tortured in Morocco, then sent to Algeria where she was beaten and sent to Niger. Eventually, she managed to return home to Senegal with the help of IOM.

Now the 23-year-old, along with a number of other returned refugees and asylum seekers, have turned to film to explore the complexities of migration. Their work is in the spotlight this year at IOM’s Global Migration Film Festival, which is currently being held in 13 countries across West and Central Africa. It runs until December 18, when the winners will be announced on International Migrants Day.

“You always see images of migration that are made by Europeans or Americans,” said Tabara Ly Wane, co-producer of La Maison Bleue, a documentary competing in the festival’s main category. “It is absolutely necessary for Africans themselves to tell their stories – to tell their own experiences.”

For the first time, a special competition is being held for films by people like Ndiaye who volunteer for IOM’s ‘Migrants as Messengers’ project.

His film, Sous mes pieds (“Beneath my feet”), was screened at a community screening last weekend in Dakar’s Yaraax neighborhood, where the informal open-air venue was packed with children and youth.

“Cinema has the advantage of immediacy,” said Magueye Kasse, a Senegalese art critic who picked the film festival’s jury. “It confronts you, it shocks you with an image, and the image makes you think.”

A photography exhibition at the opening of the film festival showed the work of volunteers from Migrants as Messengers as part of their awareness campaign [Portia Crowe/Al Jazeera]

The idea behind the Migrants as Messengers initiative is to overcome potential distrust of institutional messaging by using the peer-to-peer messaging of returning migrants instead. The program trains volunteers in photography, acting, journalism and video production, and works with them to start conversations in their communities.

IOM said the aim is not to discourage people from travelling, but rather to raise awareness of the risks of irregular migration and promote safe routes. Christopher Gascon, the organization’s regional director for West and Central Africa, knows that’s not always realistic.

“When you treat [with] In desperation, it is very difficult to say, ‘Oh, why don’t you look for a regular route?’ “, did he declare. “There are regular options for travel, but they all have to do with your level of preparedness, and it has to do with development and education.”

Still, he wants to let people know “what might be waiting for them there.”

Migration has once again become a hot topic in Europe recently when thousands of people gathered at the border between Belarus and Poland, camping out in the freezing cold. This week at least 27 people drowned in the English Channel when their dinghy capsized while attempting to cross from France.

And for those who succeed, things don’t usually get any easier.

Zeidy Dabo, a Malian, traveled in 2017 by canoe to Italy with his wife and three children but they ended up living in a tent on the outskirts of Paris. Four years later, he is still awaiting a response to his asylum application and is not allowed to work.

Director from Mantoulaye and repatriated Fatou Guet Ndiaye answered questions from the public after the screening of her film at the opening of the festival [Portia Crowe/Al Jazeera]

Although his family now lives in a safer haven and his children are educated and successful, he does not recommend the path he has taken. “I wouldn’t encourage anyone to cross the Mediterranean, not even my worst enemy,” Dabo said.

There is also the stigma faced by refugees and asylum seekers when they return home. Fatou Guet Ndiaye, who directed the film Mantoulaye, said she had to repeat a school year after her own trip attempt.

As a teenager, she had boarded a wooden fishing boat bound for the Canary Islands, but had to turn back after six days when the captain got lost. Her parents were devastated.

“They scolded me – they even hit me – because they said it was wrong for a girl in her last year of high school to leave all that and go to Spain… in a canoe with some boys,” did she say.

As for Aïssata Ndiaye, who says she has wanted to be a filmmaker since childhood, she hopes the film festival will help her build a career in the industry.

If she wins the competition, she plans to use the prize – new film equipment – ​​to launch more projects and “showcase her talent” to the world.

“I know I will continue to focus on migration,” she said. “I have a lot to say about migration; it is so vast, so vague, there is so much to say.

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