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International Migrants day is on Dec. 18th and to commemorate it, the International Organization for Migration in partnership with dozens of other entities are bringing 3 films to over 90 different countries showcasing different migration stories of individuals looking for a better life.

For Portugal, the 2017 Global Migration Film Festival took place Dec. 5th to Dec. 18th in Lisbon and the movies selected to play were Sounds of Torture, Nanny and The Journey (click links for trailers.) Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the screening of Sounds of Torture on Dec. 5th at Auditório da Biblioteca Orlando Ribeiro. 

Before this day I had never heard this event, of the documentary which actually came out in 2013 or the country of Eritrea. The documentary is centered around Swedish-Eritrean radio host Meron Estefanos and her radio show “Voices of Eritrean Refugees” in which she broadcasts calls from Eritrean citizens who attempted to escape the regime in Eritrea but were kidnapped on their journey out of their country.

When these individuals are kidnapped, the traffickers give them a phone, for which they are instructed to call family members and loved ones to ask for their ransom. During these calls, the kidnapers rape, burn and mutilate hostages with the purpose of pressuring their families to pay for the ransom. Its a gruesome and inhumane situation that does not have the attention that it should. The thing that angers me the most while learning about this situation is that the traffickers ask the ransom in U.S dollars, sometimes asking for sums over $20,000. The families of the victims sell everything they have and a lot of the times the money only gets put together when their own communities donate for the cause. The sad part is that most of the time, the victims are killed even after the ransom is paid, and a lot die from the injuries. For most of those who are released, life doesn’t get much easier. They make their way to Tel Aviv, with no money, with no refuge and no way of getting jobs on top of the mental, emotional and physical damage they withstood at the hands of the traffickers.

The hour long film exposes a bit of the history and issues occurring in Eritrea and the human trafficking problems that are still occurring involving the people of Eritrea. Like I mentioned earlier, this film came out in 2013, that’s almost more than four years ago now and still, there is little being done to help these people, from any of the countries involved in the situation.

The upside to this event was hearing from Siraj Ibrahim, a Eritrean refugee who was able to successfully escape from the regime in his country. He gave his testimony on the harsh conditions in his home country, and the difficulties he had making it all the way to Portugal, without his family or loved ones. Once in Portugal, he states that he was able to get refugee status, has been learning how to speak the language and also was able to get a job.

After hearing from Siraj, Cristina Santinho, a professor and researcher at the University Institute of Lisbon, also spoke a bit on the different issues that the film sheds light on. My take away from the talks was that even though this issue is something involving the countries of Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Israel, the EU countries, and in my opinion the U.S should be included in this, the reality is that if we as a group don’t find a way to bring attention to these issues to our world leaders, everything will continue to remain the same. And after hearing Siraj talk about how welcoming Portugal has been for him and that he’s met so many people that have helped him along the way, it made me realize that even though a government may facilitate a refugee status or migration status for individuals, it really is up to the communities to help integrate these individuals.

This was just a reminder that out of all the things going on in the world, all the things I complain about, I really am lucky and that I want to find a way to help in situations like this in any way that I can and if it starts just by telling other people about it, so be it.