by Cecily Lynch © 2015
During the Cork Film Festival I saw a documentary on the journey of African refugee people from their native pastoral lands to the big cities of Europe.
The film’s opening sequences were almost biblical. There was a long shot of hundreds of men women and children crossing a scorching desert on foot. Then there were night scenes of ravaged looking boats being loaded with silent and downcast people. More and more humanity was crammed into these flimsy crafts. Children wailed as the first waves ploughed into the boats. The adults were silent and petrified. The engines broke and they were at the mercy of the rough seas. The boats lurched crazily from side to side, spilled the elderly and weak into the black darkness. Their cries for help could be heard above the crashing of the waves. The survivors moaned in the darkness.
Towards dawn an Irish rescue ship approached. Screams for help arose. The people were hysterical with fear. The naval officers imposed a strict discipline. Women and children sick and covered with vomit were winched first up the side of the rescue ship. The rescuers wore anti infection clothing and mouth masks. The stench from the battered boats was appalling.
As the rescue ships approached the harbours of the Italian and Turkish cities, volunteers and Red Cross aides stood with rows of police, in long helpless rows as screams of terrible grief and loss arose from the decks of the rescue ships. As they disembarked, the refugees were contorted with grief for the loved ones who had been swept overboard. Their cries of desperation were heart shattering. The cries rose up to the skies in wild screaming of utter pain. The dashed their heads against the harbour walls, they rolled on the ground, the pounded their heads, they threw their arms up. The police shifted uneasily and the soldiers looked away, at the sight of such human grief and suffering.
There is no doubt that the visual impact of cinema is extraordinarily moving and sometimes unbearable.