A few hours into Hassan Akkad’s crossing from Turkey to Greece in an overcrowded dinghy, he realizes things are not looking good for him, or the 50 other refugees squeezed in beside him. He notices that there is half a foot of water in the boat. Gradually, the mounting alarm is caught on camera, as Akkad films the doomed journey on a hidden camera, and helped create the most powerful and moving account of the refugee crisis to date.
We’ve read about these terrible crossings too many times in the past year, but this is the first time footage has revealed so powerfully what is it like to be on a sinking boat, the engine no longer working, drifting somewhere between Greece and Turkey. The passengers study their mobile phones to see where they are, and whether they have crossed into Greek water. A while later, someone asks: “Is water still coming in?” Akkad manages to maneuver his phone so he captures the rising water levels between a tangle of legs. Soon, half the passengers are out of the boat, hanging on to the edges, trying in vain to bale out the water with small plastic water bottles.
The desperation of such refugees has become a familiar element of news bulletins, but what is different about Exodus – an extraordinary three-part documentary to be broadcast next week on BBC2 – is the way the film is pieced together with footage shot by refugees as they document their own journey. We are with them every step – as they negotiate with the people smugglers for a crossing to Greece (“€2,000 per person, kids half price, every kid under two-and-a-half goes free”), as their dinghy capsizes, as they climb in the back of the container lorries to be smuggled under the Channel, and find themselves near to suffocation when things do not go to plan.
Another family paid €12,000 for eight adults and eight children. Had they been able to take the ferry, it would have been safe and it would have cost €22 each.
Akkad says: “When you watch the news and see the movement of millions of people, you don’t identify with any of them. I wanted to humanize the story. I want people to understand what made us leave and what happened to us on the way.”