7 Films About the Refugee Experience

Best Refugee Life Movies
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The global refugee crisis is at an all-time high, with over 100 million people forcibly displaced due to conflicts in places like Ukraine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar and now in Gaza.

This number is expected to grow.

Understanding the challenges that refugees face is more important than ever.

They deal with everything from being forced to flee their homes, enduring dangerous journeys, to facing numerous obstacles in new countries. However, despite these hardships, many refugees show remarkable resilience and hope.

For World Refugee Week, here’s a list of seven films that offer a real look into the lives of refugees and their incredible stories of survival.

1. The Swimmers (2022)

Directed by Sally El Hosaini, this BAFTA-nominated film tells the true story of Sara and Yusra Mardini, sisters who escaped from Syria.

It captures their grueling swim across the Mediterranean Sea to Greece, their asylum in Germany, and their participation in the Rio Olympics. The film offers a close look at the experiences of those seeking safety.

You can watch it on Netflix.

2. Limbo (2020)

This film, directed by Ben Sharrock, explores the lives of asylum seekers waiting for their applications to be processed on a fictional remote Scottish island.

The story centers on Omar, a young Syrian musician who carries his grandfather’s oud, a reminder of his homeland.

“Limbo” has earned critical acclaim, including a BAFTA nomination for Outstanding British Film.

You can watch it on Netflix Mubi.

3. Sky and Ground (2018)

This documentary follows the Syrian-Kurdish Nabi family, spanning three generations, as they travel from Aleppo to Germany.

It provides a vivid portrayal of their struggles and offers insight into one of the largest humanitarian crises today.

You can find it on YouTube and Google Play.

4. Manus (2019)

This poetic documentary provides an unfiltered look at the lives of hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers detained by the Australian Federal Government on Manus Island.

The film’s black and white visuals add a stark intimacy, focusing closely on the individuals to share their stories directly.

It’s available for free on Vimeo.

5. A Road to Oxford (2020)

This short film follows Rawan, an English literature teacher who fled Syria in 2018 and relocated to Oxford, UK.

Throughout the movie, Rawan tours the city, sharing insights about both his physical and emotional journey to Oxford.

He reflects, “On my second day in Oxford, I took a walk in the city and was stunned by its rich history.

I wanted to live here; I felt so close to the culture.”

You can watch it for free on Vimeo.

6. Guardians (2020)

This documentary, produced by young campaigners from The Children’s Society, focuses on the plight of asylum-seeking children and teenagers who arrive in the UK without family support.

It highlights their ongoing struggles even after reaching safety.

The film follows a group of these young people as they travel to Glasgow to explore the guardianship scheme and advocate for better support for unaccompanied minors in England and Wales.

The narrative is woven around their personal experiences and efforts to use their voices to help others in similar situations.

Available for free on The Children Society website.

7. For Sama (2019)

“For Sama” is a BAFTA-winning documentary filmed by Waad al-Kateab, capturing her experience of motherhood during the Syrian Civil War’s bombings.

It’s a personal portrayal of love and resilience against a backdrop of conflict and tough choices.

Additionally, on Monday, June 15, the International Organisation for Migration and Action for Sama are hosting a panel discussion with the director as part of Refugee Week.

You can watch it for free on Channel 4.

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