Film review: Sea Sorrow

‘I hope the film may be of some help to the agencies who do their utmost to support the refugees who have survived, most especially to their children.’ Dir: Vanessa Redgrave

On 3 October the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) hosted a thought-provoking and inspiring film screening of Vanessa Redgrave’s Sea Sorrow

The film is a moving documentary that places the current refugee crisis in its historical context. It is ‘a requiem for the thousands of refugees who have died through lack of support and protection’. The title of the film is taken from The Tempest where Prospero describes being placed in an unseaworthy boat and cast off with his infant daughter. And so we all sat still and heard the last of our own sea sorrow.

The film begins with Eleanor Roosevelt congratulating the UN for adopting the Declaration on Human Rights in 1948. She describes it as the Magna Carta for the world. The film reminds us that the UN Refugee Convention followed in 1951 and Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1989.

Vanessa Redgrave and Lord Alfred Dubs recall their experience in the Second World War – one as a child evacuated from London and whose family took in refugees from Hungary, the other on the Kindertransport. Other interviewees reflect on the life-long trauma caused by making the journey to Europe, leaving possessions, culture and family behind.

The film takes us to the present day Mediterranean Sea where a migrant boat is sinking as rescuers try to help terrified people, and to the ‘Jungle’ migrant camp in Calais where people are waiting in confusion for an unknown conclusion to their harrowing journeys.

Following the film, a panel of Vanessa Redgrave, Lord Dubs and Stephen Cragg QC, chaired by Kirsty Brimelow QC, discussed the practical responses that might be taken to the migrant crisis. Most concern was expressed for the children in the Jungle who have relatives in the UK, but cannot get here. Lord Dubs’ amendment to the Immigration Bill requires the UK to take unaccompanied refugee children, yet this is still significantly underutilised. Litigation before the High Court has been successful on a case-by-case basis, but time has run out. By the time you read this article, the Jungle will have been cleared and these children dispersed across France, with a serious risk of being trafficked.

The event highlighted that the UK is in breach of its obligations under the UNCRC, if not other conventions, towards the children who were camped at Calais and now will be almost impossible to find. Many at the event pledged to assist with observations of the camp closure. It was expected to be violent and indiscriminate.

BHRC observation visits to Calais

Stephen Cragg QC went to Calais with Gráinne Mellon for the BHRC in July. Our report, Camps at Calais and Grande-Synthe (France): Policing and Access to Justice, records the use of police brutality in the camps and lack of access to justice.

Kirsty Brimelow QC and Jelia Sane travelled to Calais in October and entered the camp in order to observe the evacuation, with a specific focus upon child rights and child protection. They were the only lawyers carrying out this work as lawyers were not allowed into the camp. French lawyers were challenging this decision in the court in Lille. Photographs were tweeted at @Kirsty_brimelow. A further report will follow.

Brimelow commented: ‘The conditions in the camp were terrible with the dismantling before accommodating children leading to children sleeping outside in the cold or in a makeshift unheated school.

‘The lucky ones were accommodated in shipping containers. Fires, billowing thick black smoke, raged ever closer to these containers. The Bar Human Rights Committee continues to rely upon barristers’ support – as practitioners and financially – from its members. It urges you to join and show that humanity should be without borders.’ 

www.barhumanrights.org.uk

Reviewer Jodie Blackstock is Director of Criminal Justice at JUSTICE and BHRC Treasurer

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