BY: DAVID LAO
The huge influx of Syrian refugees towards the west has received an explosion of media coverage over the last few months, raising debates on topics including Europe’s treatment of refugees as well as whether or not they’re actually going to take them in. Luckily, for all the complacent, ignorant and otherwise lazy teenagers and young adults who don’t watch the news and had no idea this was even happening, two journalists were able to capture the entire journey on the video messaging application Snapchat.
BBC journalist, John Sweeney, and senior audience engagement producer, Ravin Sampat, spent 13 days travelling across Europe, documenting the journey of Syrian refugees making their way towards the safe haven of Germany. The entire trip starting from September 3rd and ending on September 15th had them travelling from Greece to the Austrian border, a distance of approximately 1,300 miles.
“So what we were trying to do was to take me, the dinosaur, and see if I can work in the 21st century, and it worked a treat in terms of giving us—the people back in London and Britain—a sense of what we were doing on the road, and our priority of course is to make the one-hour film, but essentially, whenever we had a spare moment, Ravin would film and bang, it would go up,” said Sweeney.
Starting his journey on the Greek island of Kos to film a separate documentary for BBC Panorama, Sweeney met up with Sampat in the port city of Pireas, where they began to film using Snapchat. Ravin’s entire kit contained just iPhones, microphones and chargers. They travelled alongside the refugees in a van, sometimes boarding the busses and trains the refugees were on as well.
Greece was chosen as the first spot on the trip as it was one of the main entrances refugees were using to get into Europe through Turkey. Through here, over 100,000 people are moved from Turkey into the Greek islands by Turkish smugglers. That’s over 3,000 people a day.
Once the refugees arrive, they are haltingly processed by Greek authorities—some waiting a week to get through—and are then sent to Athens where they begin their rigorous trek northwards.
From there, Sweeney and Sampat “Snapchatted” as the refugees travelled on both busses and trains to Macedonia, where they would pass through into Serbia. Here, the “snaps” of the border included that of the UN handing out food and supplies as well as left behind clothing and tents. “They have to register in Serbia and it’s chaos in slow motion, so the people—who move really fast when they can move—are held up as they get through Serbia into Hungary,” said Sweeney.
The snaps taken in Serbia include interviews with refugees, huge lineups for registration as well as a photo of a man, and his scarred son who was barrel bombed in Syria.
If you’ve been keeping up with the latest news about Hungary’s treatment of refugees, then you would know at this point, things would start to get a bit tough.
“Hungary’s got a right-wing government, it’s nationalist and it doesn’t like refugees, it doesn’t like Muslim refugees, their Prime Minister said ‘we don’t want Muslim people to stay in our country,’ and so out of all of the countries, Hungary was the most difficult towards the refugees,” said Sweeney.
Pictures and videos from the story show of refugees walking alongside desolate, litter-covered train tracks and fences of barbed wire for as long as the eye can see.
“By the way, some of the refugees were economic migrants, from places like Pakistan,” says Sweeney. “The majority, four out of five were from Syria, and again they had to register in Hungary, and again they were taken into treatment and reception centres which were covered in barbed wire, and this man said to me that this feels like a prison.”
Reaching Austria, Sweeney notes that for most of the refugees, the worst is now over. However a snap shows a diabetic woman falling over, refusing to be sent back to Hungary to receive treatment so that she can search for her son.
“There are a whole series of problems, all we’re trying to do is to tell the story. We’re doing it for all the young people to get a sense of what it was like for the digital community,” says Sweeney.
Aside from using Snapchat, dozens of other journalists are turning to social media to portray the journey these refugees are undertaking. Paul Ronzheimer for German newspaper BILD is using Periscope, a live video streaming app to show the journey to over 33,000 followers. TIME Magazine also made use of it, broadcasting to over 1,400 live viewers at the time. Periscope allows viewers to comment on the content they’re seeing as well as ask refugees questions, changing the perspective of how easily engaged we are through social media.
Eleanor Beardsley, a radio broadcaster for National Public Radio (NPR) has taken to showcasing photos of refugees, primarily those waiting in train stations, on her Instagram account.
“At the same time, all of this stuff, all of it, is about storytelling. It’s just using the very, very most up-to-date platform and mechanism of getting that story we’re telling to the maximum amount of people through the most normal way,” says Sweeney.
The last video in the story shows the diabetic woman reunited with her son, back in Austria.