At 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday, December 27, PBS Frontline will broadcast a heart-wrenching two-hour special, titled “Exodus,” that features the stories of the perilous journeys of four groups of refugees making their way to Europe, after beginning from far-reaching locations, as far apart as the Gambia and Afghanistan.
“Exodus” begins with footage of refugees walking through rural farmlands to Europe in 2015. Images of hungry children eating burnt corn, which is all that is readily available, remind viewers of the precarious situation those featured have been thrown into. In total, those documented in “Exodus” were said to have navigated a total of 26 nations.
While some of the footage included in “Exodus” was shot by Frontline crew, other footage, shot by the travelers themselves with cell phones, depicts scenes unseen elsewhere, including the first-person perspective of a dinghy filled with children and the elderly capsizing in the Mediterranean and refugees being trafficked by human smugglers across the Sahara Desert to Libya from Agadez, Niger, which is presented as a hub of criminal activity.
First, in Izmir, Turkey, where Frontline reports that over 800,000 refugees began their journey to Europe in 2015, “Exodus” focuses on the journey of Isra’a and her family, refugees from Syria whose home was bombed. The 11-year-old girl, her father, and relatives are forced to sell cigarettes in the street in order to raise money for their journey. Isra’a can be seen pointing to an inflatable ring sold by a roadside vendor, explaining to the cameraperson that her family will buy one for her disabled sister to protect her on the journey across the Mediterranean to Greece they are planning.
The Frontline documentary also follows the journey of Alaigie, a 21-year-old man from the Gambia, where one-third of the population is said to live in poverty. The enormous burden placed on the gentle young African is evident as he pledges to travel to Europe to earn money to provide for his mother and siblings; Alaigie’s father recently died. Footage shot by the Gambian with his cell phone shows a group, said to number 1,000, making the four-day trip across the Sahara Desert, 29 people to a pickup truck, each piled high with humans and their possessions seemingly mixed, almost interchangeably.
Even after paying a smuggler about 2,000 euros to arrange for his transport to Libya, Alaigie was held captive in the war-torn nation until his family in the Gambia could raise enough funds to pay a ransom. In total, it took Alaigie eight months to reach Europe. Others crossing the Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece report paying upwards of 5,000 euros for a spot in overcrowded inflatable dinghies, many of which capsized before reaching the Greek islands.
Also featured in “Exodus” are Hassan and Ahmad, from Syria, and Sadiq, from Afghanistan. Sadiq explains that nobody would choose to live in Afghanistan if given the choice, but that many people are trapped, either unaware of how to leave or unable to afford the trek. Sadiq made note of the treatment of women in Afghanistan, explaining that women seen by a member of the Taliban with their hands or feet exposed from under a Burka, or other seemingly nonsensical infractions, regularly undergo beatings.
Listening to Hassan, Ahmad, and Sadiq speak, the intelligence and eloquence of each are striking. Hassan spent six months living in “The Jungle” in Calais, France, attempting to enter the United Kingdom. The Syrian English teacher stated that people in his home country knew that civil war was coming before 2011. Hassan described being beaten by Syrian police for 20 minutes with iron bars, breaking his arms and leg, for merely attending a protest.
“Smugglers are criminals,” Ahmad said of those who are said to profit from the chaos.
Stories of travelers being sold fake lifejackets, which sink instead of float, are told. Eleven-year-old Isra’a spoke of being slapped by Turkish police after being caught selling illegal cigarettes in the street.
Despite all the obstacles in their path, each of the travelers featured in “Exodus” perseveres; fortunately, none drown or die. Tarek, Isra’a’s father, cited the drowning of Alan Kurdi, as previously featured by the Inquisitr, as a reason not to attempt the crossing to Greece. Tarek, Isra’a, and their family press on, determined to make a new life for themselves in the safety of Europe.
“Look how European people are good and kind,” Sadiq states as he is fed, housed, and outfitted with warm clothing upon arriving in Sweden.
He notes that even though he and his group are not yet working and are not even citizens, all of their needs have been met.
Watch PBS Frontline’s “Exodus” at 9 p.m. on December 27 on PBS to see the footage, hear the stories, and learn the fates of each of the travelers, who, as put so well by Ahmad, are just regular people looking for a safe place to live in peace.
[Featured Image by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]