A call was made for more filmmakers in the Arab world to spotlight attention on the plight of child refugees and domestic violence at the fourth edition of the El Gouna Film Festival Sunday.
“We need artists and filmmakers to spotlight violence against women and children,” said Noura Selim, executive director at the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development on the panel “Children Matter” organized by UNHCR and the Sawiris Foundation. The billionaire Sawiris Brothers, Naguib and Samih Sawiris, founded the El Gouna Film Festival in 2017.
Speaking on the panel alongside Selim were Karim Atassi, UNHCR’s representative in Egypt, Haifa Abu Ghazaleh, assistant secretary-general of the League of Arab States (LAS), and Syrian actress Kinda Alloush. Following the panel, a video interview with Lebanese director Nadine Labaki was broadcast. Labaki’s most recent film, the Oscar-nominated “Capernaum,” starred Syrian refugee child actor Zain Al Rafeea (credited as Zain El Hajj.)
Abu Ghazala cited the importance of cinema in opening minds in the Arab region. Concurring with Selim, she added: “We have to harness art because filmmakers have the ability to go into every house. We see a lot of trivial films, but we must have elevated art covering issues such as domestic violence and children, in the old days these kids [such as those depicted in “Carpernaum”] were called street children but now we are using the new term, which is deserted children.”
Abu Ghazala explained the dire situation of refugees from across the Arab world. “We have 50% of the world’s refugees coming from the Arab world, and a large number of these are children.”
Atassi added: “Unfortunately this is not new for our region. The Arab region has one of the oldest group of refugees: the Palestinians. There are over six million Syrians displaced.”
Syrian actress Alloush added: “When the crisis erupted in Syria, we thought it would be a matter of months. Now it’s the 10th year since the eruption of the crisis, now it’s a reality and we are obliged to deal with it.” She called on those in the entertainment industry and beyond to volunteer to help deserted children.
The UNCHR program involves registering deserted children, giving them identity cards and papers so that they can access social security systems. Once they have done this, in Egypt, they try to determine the identity and status of the asylum seeker. He estimated that there were more than 250,000 refugees in Egypt.
Selim added that psychological support and education was also needed, with the creation of safe places for deserted children, and victims of domestic violence. ”We estimate that 75% of children up to the age of 18 are subjected to violence, and 30% of women in marriages suffer domestic violence.” She added: “This is a complex issue that needs agency work. And we need artists and filmmakers to spotlight violence against women and children because we have seen a lot of these issues prevalent.”
The panel was accompanied by short films that narrate and humanize the refugee crises.
Following the talk, Lebanese director Labaki, an artist who has brought this issue to international attention through her film “Capernaum,” said via video link that more needs to be done by state organizations and international agencies to support filmmakers. “We [artists] start a community dialogue and raise attention to deal with these subjects,” she said. “But what’s next is not about filmmaking.”
“I tried to understand this issue for a long time,” added Labaki. “You can’t work on one aspect because there are a lot of problems. So you need to have a general approach and masterplan and it’s important to work on the laws. I dream of the day that education will be available to all these deserted children and they have an automatic right to a nationality and identity paper regardless of any political issues.”
The panel comes in the fourth year of a partnership between UNHCR and El Gouna. This year’s edition carries the slogan “Cinema for Humanity,” and there are several initiatives to promote awareness of deserted children.
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