Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan advocated for better treatment of Syrian refugees and emphasized the gravity of the migrant crisis in a film screening for the award-winning documentary “Salam Neighbor” in Gaston Hall on Thursday.
Former United Nations Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues and Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security Melanne Verveer hosted the event, which over 700 people attended.
Queen Rania and the Jordanian royal family have strong ties to Georgetown University. King Abdullah II (GRD ’89)graduated from the School of Foreign Service with an MSFS degree, and their son and daughter, Crown Prince Hussein (SFS ’16) and Princess Iman (SFS ’18) currently attend Georgetown.
After an introduction by former Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom and current CEO of the International Rescue Committee David Miliband, Queen Rania gave a short address before the 75-minute documentary tracking directors Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple’s time in a Jordanian refugee camp.
Queen Rania praised the strength and kindness of the Jordanian people for helping the Syrian refugees.
“1.3 million of these men, women and children are living in Jordan today,” Queen Rania said. “The people of Jordan have opened their homes and their hearts. And I couldn’t be more proud of their selflessness, sacrifice and kindness.”
Queen Rania said the film helped humanize the refugees beyond their portrayal in the media and revealed their strengths.
“What you’ll see, as [Temple] and [Ingrasci] saw when they moved into Za’atari camp, is beyond the headlines, beyond the labels, are people that everyone can relate to,” Queen Rania said. “What I love about this film is the resilience it shows. For all the refugees have suffered, they have not abandoned hope. We see people who have nothing finding ways to share everything.”
The film depicted the four weeks that filmmakers Ingrasci and Temple spent living alongside Syrian refugees in the Za’atari refugee camp in northwest Jordan. The U.N. registered them in the camp and gave them an identical tent to the rest of the refugees. They are the first filmmakers to ever do this in a refugee camp.
Ingrasci said the project first began three years ago, while the pair was working on another film.
“Salam [a refugee] told us about what it means to be forced from your home and forced to restart your life in a new country,” Ingrasci said. “That story didn’t align with what we’re hearing in the news. Eight months later we ended up in a refugee camp.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Rescue Committee and Jordanian authorities coordinate to run the camp. Za’atari camp is the second largest refugee camp in the world, with almost 80,000 refugees.
The film showed Ingrasci and Temple quickly befriending refugees in the camp, spending hours playing games with and interviewing Syrian men, women and children inside their tents.
Among the individuals featured in the film was 10-year-old Raouf, who suffered a mental trauma after the filmmakers attempted to convince Raouf to attend class in the schools provided by Za’atari, since the boy had not attended school since leaving Syria. Ingrasci and Temple later learned from Raouf’s father that his school had been bombed in Syria. The film depicted Temple crying in a tent later.
Ingrasci said the work was emotionally challenging both during and after filming.
“The most difficult part of this entire journey was leaving and knowing they might be there for another 17 years; it was so tough to walk away from,” Ingrasci said. “You sit here in an amazing space like Gaston and of course the emotion you’re going to feel is guilt. And the cure to guilt is action.”
After the screening, Ingrasci, Temple, Darwaza and Mohab Khattab, a co-producer at 1001 Media co-producer, which seeks to builds a gateway between Hollywood and the Arab world, held a panel where Verveer led discussion before a question-and-answer session with the audience.
Queen Rania outlined steps to help rehabilitate the refugees into society and urged everyone to play a part in resolving the crisis.
“We must ensure children receive the education that their future and their country’s future depends on,” Queen Rania said. “It means creating economic goals to provide skills and training and jobs in order to kick start growth and recovery. The needs are great, so let us be great. We all have a role we can play.”
Temple said he hoped the film would change the general public’s mentality concerning refugees from short to long-term thinking.
“I think a lot of people, as we did before, think about refugee issues in the short term. You think immediately of the humanitarian needs — food, shelter, blankets, and that is enough,” Temple said. “But at what point does somebody need that opportunity to work again and have the right to rebuild his life and provide for his children?”
Temple said the EU-Turkey deal in effect March 20, in which Turkey has agreed to accept refugees from Europe in return for funds, does not treat migrants humanely.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about the EU-Turkey deal and actually the UNHCR has publicly not supported the deal,” Temple said. “I think if you really look into it there are a lot of challenges facing it, is it really treating people with the dignity they deserve? Treating people as human beings, not pawns to be traded.”
Zoe Nelson (COL ’19) said the film changed her perspective on the situation.
“I thought the film was amazingly done. The personal accounts gave me a whole new perspective and gave the tragic situation a personable side. Seeing first hand the devastating toll the war has taken by disrupting so many people’s lives really stuck with me,” Nelson said.