722 TMX Engineer Battalion documents the struggle of thousands of refugees from Syria, stuck in Greece following the European Union’s decision to close their borders. Narrated by Christy Kelly, an English student, the film is set in a refugee camp in Alexandreia in Northern Greece. The people of Alexandreia opened up their small town to displaced migrants hoping to seek asylum in Europe, escaping the unimaginable horrors back home in Syria.
The documentary provides an exclusive look behind the walls of this Greek army-run refugee camp, which offers humanitarian support to Syrian families. Since its opening, the camp has grown into a community, with everyone making the best of a bad situation. Sharing their insights into this life – refugees, volunteers, the army and Alexandreia’s locals offer their opinions on some of the most difficult moral and ethical questions which have filled the news over the past year.
The film gives a voice to the migrants, whose tragic and heartbreaking stories have been lost in the wave of media statistics. Stuck in a kind of purgatory, the refugees hope their stay in Greece is temporary, determined to be in the camp for the short-term only. Although some of the Greek military were not exactly enthusiastic about having to help, the documentary shows how their perceptions towards the refugees changed. Once they realised these refugees were ordinary people, not so different from them and their families, the issue transformed to one they could sympathise with.
The film was followed by a question and answer session with the director Yiannis Koufonikos and UK producer Tim Kelly. Having watched the film, which provided an insight into the global crisis that has taken countless lives and threatens many more, most of the audience needed a moment to take in the magnitude of the problems explored in the documentary before the conversation began. Once they did so, questions initially revolved around the local Alexandrians and their attitude towards the migrants. One particularly disturbing incident in the film highlights a racist bus driver angrily criticising the Syrians for entering Greece, and the audience wanted to know more about this. The director, Yiannis Koufonikos, explained that whilst xenophobia was not uncommon in Greece, many Greeks had also expended a great deal of effort to help the refugees and the ‘refugee positive’ attitude of the left-wing Syriza Government, along with responsible representations in the local press, had helped quell any fears most locals possessed. The producer, Tim Kelly, contrasted this with the attitude and behaviour of the British Government and media.
The resounding effects of this film were highlighted in the audience’s overwhelming concern for the future of the migrants, for what comes next: with no easy or apparent answer, there was much debate as to the best thing to do. Many members of the audience expressed outrage that Britain has not welcomed those escaping war, and the discussion generated a feeling that the wider issues surrounding mass migration cannot be ignored. The film informed on an issue that is too often disregarded, and the discussion ended with the audience encouraged to do more research around refugee support and to get involved in volunteering.
722 TMX Engineer Batallion is due to be shown on Greek TV in the New Year.
722 TMX Engineer Battalion
Written and narrated by Christy Kelly
Directed by Yiannis Koufonikos
Produced by Giorgio Spyridis (Greece) & Tim Kelly (UK)
Review by Phoebe Barker