Producer/Director, Hard Way Home
The Iraqi refugee crisis is one of the biggest but most one of the most invisible in history. Neither the Americans nor the Iraqi government want to admit it exists. The misery of the five million people driven from their homes spoils their story of a disastrous war turned around, a country stabilised and gradually emerging from sectarian violence. So two million people languish in exile in Syria and Jordan, most of them not allowed to work, sinking into poverty as they spend the last of their savings on rent, food and medicine. Nearly three million struggle to survive in slum encampments around Iraq's main towns.>
Why can't they go home? Isn't Iraq safer now? The sad fact is that one of the main reasons that violence has fallen in Iraq is that the sectarian cleansing of mixed Sunni-Shia Muslim areas has been largely complete since the end of 2007. There has been no need to keep on killing. But families who were driven out of mixed areas are certainly not being welcomed back; some that have tried have been killed. The map of Iraq has been changed forever.
Our film shows three families struggling to live with this new reality. Afrah is a Shia married to a Sunni; they cannot live together in Iraq now. The two flats they owned in Baghdad were seized by a sectarian militia and they have run out of money. Ahlam was kidnapped in Baghdad because she had contact with the US military to get humanitarian aid for her part of the city; she cannot go back. Fayez and his wife and children do go back, but their house has been destroyed and Fayez cannot find work.>
I spent several months in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 and set up a TV production bureau in Baghdad which has made more than 60 films since 2005. But I missed the size and urgency of the refugee crisis. We made a film in 2006 following a family being driven out of Baghdad, and when they reached Baghdad it seemed as if all their troubles were over because they were safe. In fact, their problems were just beginning.
I realised this when I went to Damascus in early 2007 to see a friend who had been forced out of Baghdad. A proud and competent man in his 50s who had been able to look after his extended family right through the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and right through the UN sanctions of the 1990s was broken and desperate, counting the months till their savings would run out.
It took another year to get funding for a film. America and Britain didn't want to admit the refugee crisis existed and international NGOs were ignoring it. Only Syria and Jordan cared - and who listens to them? Eventually, though, the BBC's new Arabic TV channel commissioned a film, which was first broadcast in April 2008.
I wish I could say the film is now out of date, but it's not. There has been no mass return of refugees, and the world's governments seem to care less than ever. So it's down to us.
TX BBC Arabic April 2008