This is exile : A Film Review


For The Save the Children Fund to explain the current situation in just one location in human terms and to provide a focus on the problems and seemingly indifferences to resolving the displacement of many they have undertaken to produce this documentary. This is exile.

The largest refugee crisis in the world is without question currently, the Exodus of Syrian people from their homes to places of apparent safety.  These places are first location states of displacement.  Some are actually within Syria and on the border with for example Lebanon.  Others are actually in Lebanon and are transit camps of massive size largely run by NGO’s UNHCR can be classified as such given no one Government holds sway and is a joint International aid response alongside more removed NGO’s such as Save the Children and Red Cross.

The scale is horrendous.  4,000,000 have been displaced in Syria and over 2,000,000 of them are children.  Of those about seventy percent would be classified as unaccompanied, meaning they are only with a family or group because they rendered assistance and helped them move through places to reach a ‘place of safety.’  Many children have not made it and their story and plight is an unknown.  Families are separated and the location or survival of parents is unknown in the majority of cases.

The film opens with a picture of wide open spaces with distant snow capped montainscand rough ragged terrain barely manageable as argicultural land and thereby in the main uninhabited.  It conveys the size and scale of Syria.  The relative peace is juxtaposed with convoys of trucks and a virtual caravanseri of displaced people.  It is as if a new nomadic race has been there and seasonal movements are taken but this is the deception.  This place is open land and inhospitable and a likely target for Jets to bomb given the movements through Syria of pockets of Diash (Isis) who also up use the convoys as cover for their own purposes.

 Our question is – How to we take in unaccompanied Children refugees, provide them with a safe environment, to restart their education, to give them freedom to express themselves, create opportunities to assimilate, learn languages, contribute to the society they are in, to become healthy peaceful human beings and finally enable them to assert their sense of their own identity in relation to their birthplace and to establish connections again with their families and obtain the truth together with justice for their plight and flight.

 Politics = Wisdom.      That believe it or not is its goal and purpose.

The Department for Health and Social Services has created a set of protocols to manage the few numbers of Unaccompanied children but with the size of the problem so vast it must engage in constructing a new set of principles and accords which equate with our own freedoms and establish accommodation models which international aid can be found to finance new build and monitoring staff and observers who will work on programmes equating as closely as possible to our and their expectations.  An aspect of this could be I would suggest members of the refugee community working alongside specialist Social workers, care providers, to guide, report, implement procedures which are workable and cut out layers of bureaucracy and hinderances.  There is sufficient capacity; there are so many unemployed, there are so many willing to help and put down from wherever it comes, racial hatred, prejudices of many diverse kinds and also to rote to against internal race on race exploration, control and bullying.

The film

This Is Exile: Diaries of Child Refugees is an extraordinary, intimate portrait of the lives of child refugees forced to flee Syria’s civil war.

The documentary tells children’s stories in their own words, capturing the moving truth of how they deal with the loss and hardship of living in exile from their homeland.

This is Exile was funded by friends of Save the Children and filmed in Lebanon by the Emmy-award winning director Mani Benchelah.

Made by the independent production company Make Productions, the film offers an uncompromising portrayal of refugee children’s experiences.

Holding your own screening.

If you’d like to hold your own screening of This is Exile, please download our screening pack, which contains information, step-by-step instructions and discussion points. You could also collect donations for our Syria appeal from those attending. To request a DVD, contact us on

A newsdeeply interview with Director Mani Benchelah.

From war-torn homes to near permanent refugee status, Syrian children in Lebanon are living in a situation of never-ending insecurity, award-winning film-maker Mani Benchelah tells Syria Deeply. His film provides an intimate view into the lives of a generation whose world has been turned upside down.

Told in their own voices, the film allows these children, who have already at such a young age witnessed violence and atrocities the likes of which most will never see, to tell their own story.
The film is a beautifully crafted insight into the human cost of Syria’s ongoing civil war, which has forced more than four million people – half of whom are children – to flee the country.
The U.N.’s refugee agency estimates there are more than one million Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon – a number equal to a quarter of the country’s population – but the number is likely closer to more than 1.5 million.
Nearly five years into the conflict, the fighting in Syria only seems to be getting worse, and as fall quickly turns to winter across the Middle East, many of the children featured in Benchelah’s film are facing a chilly winter in tents in unheated buildings across Lebanon.

WRITTEN BY Dylan Collins   For 

Syria Deeply caught up with Benchelah last weekend before his film screened at the annual BBC Arabic Film Festival. In four bloody years, over four million people have fled Syria to neighbouring countries. More than half of the refugees are children who have experienced both the brutality of war and the painful insecurity of exile. Most Syrians believed their escape would be temporary. They hoped to return to their homes when the bombs stopped falling, when schools opened again, when the violence ended. Few predicted their exile would last years, and potentially decades.

The interview

Syria Deeply: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to make this film?

Mani Benchelah: I’m a film-maker now. I used to live in Syria, years ago, in the 90s. I went there to formally study Arabic. So, in 2011, when the uprising started, I decided I wanted to find a way to get in and to report from where the uprising was taking place. I was originally working as an independent photographer. After a few weeks in Damascus, I found a way to sneak into Homs and to report on the ongoing repression and civil uprising. That was in October and November of 2011.
I went back to Syria in February 2012 when the fighting started to be much more intense. I was still working as a photographer – for Le Monde this time – but I also started to film. I stayed a month there, in Homs again and some surrounding areas, documenting what was going on. That led to some new photography work and a film, entitled The Horror of Homs (UK Channel 4). I continued working as a filmmaker in Syria after that. I kept coming back – mainly to the Homs area.
At a certain point though, it became impossible for me to get back in. Too many of my colleagues were getting killed and kidnapped. This is about the same time the refugee crisis started to become a pressing issue in the surrounding countries, and obviously for the Syrian population. When I was in Syria, interviewing children was never a main focus of mine, but it was an underlying issue that kept coming back. It became clear pretty quickly that children were a huge chunk of the refugee population. And, because obviously they will become the new ruling generation some day, it’s important to focus on what’s happening to them and what their prospects for the future are. Around this time, I was contacted by Save the Children to make a film about children – I chose Lebanon because of the numbers and the pressing issues for refugees there. So yeah, I guess that’s how it all started.

Syria Deeply: So could you give us a brief overview of your film?

Mani Benchelah: The film is a series of portraits of Syrian children living in Lebanon as refugees, who came with their families. I followed them throughout a year, coming back to Lebanon every three months or so, following the evolution of their lives. It’s filmed in various areas in Lebanon, some in the southern suburbs of Beirut, like the Shatila refugee camp, some in the Beqaa Valley, some in Arsal, other parts are in Tripoli. The children were all of different ages, from about 7 to 16 or so.
Initially, as I met them in early 2014, the idea of returning home to Syria was still realistic in their mind. Many of them had just arrived over the previous year, most had only been there for a few months or weeks even. They thought they were there [in Lebanon] momentarily, and then they would soon head home. But as the year passed and months went by, the prospect of going home became more and more remote, and the difficulties of having to adapt to this new reality started to become their reality.
The film really isn’t very optimistic. Most refugees flee the war with the idea that it will be a temporary measure they must take in order to find shelter from the violence and that they’ll return home as soon as possible, but as the war seems to be never-ending, this prospect becomes more and more remote. This is a general reality for most refugees – not just Syrians, actually. Most of them never return home, and often end up in some kind of limbo situation as refugees for years and years. The temporary refugee status becomes permanent.
And when we think of refugees in Lebanon, I mean obviously you can’t help but think about the Palestinians, who’ve been there for over 60 years. They, too, left home with this same idea – that they’d return home sooner rather than later. Camps made of tents become neighborhoods, and they start pouring concrete and they become new parts of the cities, like Shatila and Sabra. It’s the same in Pakistan for the Afghani refugee population that has been living there for years and years now, and the same in Africa for refugee populations that cross a border and five years later, 10 years later, they are still there.

Syria Deeply: So in terms of your year or so of experience with the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon, what are the largest issues they are facing?

Mani Benchelah: I mean, I focused on the children, so for them, the main issue is education and access to health. And obviously, just being able to provide a stable environment and adequate food. Mostly though, it’s access to education and access to health. It’s very complicated for Syrian children. Even if the Lebanese authorities, with the help of the U.N., have launched programs, they’re only able to reach a small percentage of the kids.
And many many kids are dropping out of school. They’re impoverished. Their families have no income. They need the teenagers to start working. Many of the kids I was following had to drop out of school to help support their families over the year I spent with them. Others simply had no access to schools because they were too far from a school or they weren’t living in a refugee camp, and even the schools in the camps weren’t proper schools.
Syria Deeply: Over the year you spent, is there any particular moment that stuck with you as an explicative
Mani Benchelah: Every child I followed highlights an aspect of the overall plight. For example, one of the young teenagers I was following had to drop out of school despite his deep desire to learn, to continue studying and to someday go to college. It was a tipping moment when he realized he really couldn’t continue learning. It was, for me, a moment indicative of so many other Syrian children who simply cannot continue their education.
For others, the situation in Lebanon itself was the story. They fled violence in Syria to find safety in Lebanon, and after months living in a somewhat more stable and peaceful situation, the violence found them again. Militants connected to ISIS crossed the Lebanese border into the city of Arsal in 2014 while I was working there, so there were clashes between the militants, Hezbollah and the Lebanese army, and for the children I was following, the war had started again. They couldn’t escape. The psychological trauma they’d lived with in Syria started to reappear. It is a never-ending insecurity they are living with. They are children, so they don’t differentiate between who is who – it’s just another situation of an armed man that keeps on following them and trying to kill them. Or like [President] Bashar al-Assad is like some kind of monster man who is following them…like the Boogie Man or something.
One of the children had the chance to relocate to Europe with her family, and was able to start a new life in Switzerland. She’s among the very, very few who’ve been granted relocation through UNHCR [the U.N.’s refugee agency]. So, at least for her, her prospects for the future were much more optimistic. She was very optimistic when she arrived in Switzerland and realized that she had turned a page and that Syria was completely behind her. But her story is only indicative of a very small minority of the Syrian refugees. It re-emphasizes how grim the prospects are for most Syrians in Lebanon.

Syria Deeply: From where you stand, what is the most pressing issue facing the global community when it comes to Syrian refugees?

Mani Benchelah: More countries should be willing to take in refugees. In terms of the girl I just mentioned who managed to make it to Switzerland with her family, the only reason they were granted relocation is because she had been paralyzed after being hit by shrapnel while she and her family still lived in Syria. There are many kids who have similar cases that haven’t been granted the same opportunity. There should be more legal ways specifically for those refugees who are in such a vulnerable situation, particularly so that they’re not forced to make the journey illegally. I was in Greece less than a month ago, and you keep on seeing refugees who you would hope could be granted asylum or at least have their case considered. These are families traveling with handicapped kids … but if you look at the numbers of refugees compared with the number of actual relocations, it’s nothing. If you look at the number of asylum seekers most states in Europe and in the Gulf are taking, the gap is enormous. There are literally millions living in this limbo type of situation, and winter is coming

Repair the childrens minds.  All of us share the blame for allowing the damage to happen.

John Graham

23 June 2016


Most of this blog is a repost of the  Syria deeply interview and excerpts taken from the Save Children Fund site.
About the Author
Dylan Collins

Dylan Collins is an independent journalist based in the Middle East since 2010. His work has appeared with The Guardian, Al-Jazeera America, Al-Jazeera English, Syria Deeply and L’Espresso among others. Follow him on Twitter: @collinsdyl

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s