The statement of the headline, so shocking, is included in one of the stories that make up the documentary El Camino.
Specifically, the life experience of Kennet Iolabuchi, who after leaving his native Nigeria with the hope of reaching Europe to study, was deceived and abandoned in the Sahara desert and survived the shipwreck of his patera crossing the Mediterranean to Spain, where he ended up studying and becoming a priest.
El Camino is the third work of the journalist and filmmaker José Manuel Colón, thus closing his trilogy dedicated to the African continent, after Black man, white skin (2015) where he focused on the reality of albino people in various African countries, and Eva’s apple (2017), about female genital mutilation.
“When we see an immigration documentary, we always keep the image of the patera, but we don’t look for what is behind it, the reason why they left, the path they have traveled, the places of the jump … And that is what I have tried to tell, but not narrated by me, but by its protagonists ”, explains Colón.
These narrators of the play, released at the end of September, are Kenneth Iolabuchi, Rashid Iddrisu, Nicole Ndongala and the crew of the Open Arms in the Mediterranean.
But also the aid worker Giovanna Fakes, the former European parliamentarian Claude Moraes, Father Mussei Zerai, Carlota Sammi (UNHCR European spokesperson), Chasmeddine Marzoug (the corpse fisherman) and Leoluca Orlando, mayor of the city of Palermo.
Through their experiences and personal stories, the viewer gets closer to the different reasons that incite each of them to leave their life behind and jump into the sea (literally or symbolically).
Kenneth’s story is one of many men and women who risk their lives every day fleeing war, hunger or poverty, and who think that in Europe their situation will improve. However, as Colón recalls well about the perception that society has of him, “Kenneth has an advantage: he is a priest, he is no longer an immigrant.”
From 2014 to 2019, according to data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 19,000 deaths were recorded in the Mediterranean, most of them due to drowning. The Missing Migrants project collects, so far in 2020 alone, 770 people who died in this sea.
There is no official count and the data dance according to the sources because it is practically impossible to keep an exact count of the people who are swallowed, but the figure is scandalously high.
There is no official count and the data dance according to the sources because it is practically impossible to keep an exact count of the people that the Mediterranean Sea swallows
Caminando Fronteras is one of the entities that has been working and recording shipwrecks on the southern border for the longest time.
According to their report Vida en la Necrofrontera –which was used by Columbus to prepare the documentary– during 2018 and early 2019 they registered 70 shipwrecks, 12 missing boats and 1,020 fatalities. Of 816 of which the bodies were never found.
When experiencing a rescue on the high seas, your priorities change and you rethink many of the existing laws and regulations. This is how Carolina Juárez, Open Arms lifeguard, explains it in the tape: “People who are sitting behind a desk would have to come one day, get on the boat and see what is going on in there.”
That feeling of indifference on the part of those who make decisions is also remembered by Columbus during the weeks he shared with the crew in international waters of the Mediterranean. One night they sighted a dinghy from Libya with 44 people on board, including two small children, one four years old and the other 10 months old.
During 2018 and early 2019, they registered 70 shipwrecks, 12 missing boats and 1020 fatalities. Of 816 of which the bodies were never found
The documentary collects, almost as if it were a reality show , the four-hour wait forced by the authorities of Malta and Italy before proceeding to the rescue and the impotence of discovering the next day, that very close to where they were, that same night the 30 occupants of another boat had died.
“Days later Italy sent a team of divers to rescue the corpses that were 24 meters deep, and you say to yourself, how do you send corpses to be rescued from the seabed and you did not go hours before when they were alive?”, Asks Colon.
Political interests and solidarity are intertwined in brutal stories that, so everyday go unnoticed in the daily waves. Realities such as that one in every 20 people who reach the Canary Islands by boat stays at sea , the worst figure of all the migratory routes to Europe.
The director immerses the viewer in the personal experiences of the migrants, aware of the controversies and misinformation: “Most of the Africans who emigrate stay in Africa. We only see the tip of the iceberg and we believe that we are supporting everything … and it is a lie ”.
Born and raised in Cádiz, Colón tells how the idea of dealing with the issue of immigration in a documentary is something he always had in mind, coming from the southernmost point of the continent and living with that reality since he was a child:
“The human being gives two steps forward and one step back. And I think that, on the issue of human rights, we are now going backwards ”, he concludes.
Determined to tell stories from a human perspective, his works do not save harsh and impressive images, but he always tries to provide a hopeful message. “I think that if you have no hope of changing some things, you have already given up everything,” he says almost justifying himself.
In this he agrees with Father Kenneth, who apart from his work at the head of a small parish in the Murcia region, dedicates his time to give conferences sharing his history with others and to educate and train young people in Nigeria through the Kencilo Touch a Life foundation so that they do not risk emigration and repeat the path he traveled.
“In the talks that I have had the opportunity to share with people, I have always encouraged young people not to go out, not to undertake this journey of death like the one I did, because it is dangerous and almost half do not reach their destination.
In addition, it is a great suffering for their families who continue to wait for the return of their family without realizing that they have lost their lives in the desert or the ocean ”, he explains in a slow voice.
“It is the moment of empathy” repeats throughout the film Nicole Ndongala, today president of the NGO Karibu of Madrid, who also had to leave her country fleeing the violence.
Playing with the simile of messages thrown into the sea in a bottle, different familiar faces give voice to the real ones, those of women who had to leave everything behind and embark on that path that often does not end when they arrive in Europe, as the film denounces .
Kenneth wanted to study law in England, Rashid wanted to get to Europe to earn a lot of money and be able to pay for the medicines his sick father needed, Nicole was fleeing the war and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo …
Each person’s reasons for leaving behind your home in search of a better life are different. But they all have a common denominator: they harbor the hopes not only of their protagonists, but of all the family and friends they leave behind, who often depend on them to survive.
“We are not seeing an alien documentary that occurs in Africa, there are many links that bring us closer and that reality is closer than we think”, clarifies the director. “If you report something but are not able to transmit it, it will stay in a drawer. If you don’t tell a reality, it will fade over time ”.
A born storyteller, Colón has the privilege of being the only Spanish director who offers his two documentaries in all the countries where the Netflix platform operates. Beyond the recognitions and awards he has received, this visibility gives him the opportunity to dedicate himself to what he really likes:
“I think I do a job that is not going to change the world, but it leaves you with another idea of how they should be things. You watch my documentaries and for at least 10 minutes afterwards, they make you think. If we get a lot of people to think, maybe we will change society a little bit ”, he explained while closing the presentation of the documentary in Madrid last November.
After filming ended at the beginning of March, he had to lock himself up at home for several weeks because he caught covid-19, and he was only able to finish editing the film at the end of August.
During these months, despite the limitations caused by the pandemic, it has been presented and screened at festivals and movie theaters in different parts of the world. Expect a high impact and who knows, maybe he can succeed in the Goya. Quite a way to go.