Day 2 of Dokufest concluded in a packed cinema with a screening of The Last Men in Aleppo. Spectators were introduced to Khalid and Mahmoud, members of the Syrian Civil Defence also known to the world as the White Helmets. The documentary followed their day to day activities as they volunteered their time clearing rubble and rescuing victims of aerial strikes.
Amongst several of the film’s underlying themes, one stood out as particularly relevant to the Kosovo context. Despite the deteriorating situation in Syria, neither Khalid or Mahmoud expressed or acted upon any desire to leave. Opportunities to seek refuge in more stable countries such as Turkey or Germany became attractive in theory alone, as in practice both Khalid and Mahmoud’s ties to their homeland eliminated any chances of migration.
Not everyone sees the issue of migration as being as black and white as Khalid and Mahmoud interpret it to be. With an extensive diaspora, and the not so long a go- its own history of painful violation of human rights, Kosovo is familiar with the migration narrative. Many families fleeing the conflict in the 90s established homes elsewhere, mostly in the United States or Western Europe. Students that have the means maintain the strong tradition of studying overseas. Despite this, many return to Kosovo, whether it is to spend a few months per year or live here permanently. When asked why, they often reference a sense of duty to improve their homeland. They acknowledge the issues that predominate Kosovo society, however seek to eliminate them and take control of their future, which they see brighter than now. Valon, a 28 year old from Gjilan/Gjilane summarizes this, explaining “I feel like leaving. Most of the time. Being in Kosovo feels like being in purgatory. There are days where I’m like, ‘Why am I even here? Why does any of this matter?’ And then there are other days. Days that fuel the idea of staying. Maybe things can be better here. Maybe it’s not so bad.”
Regardless of their extent, the ties that bind one to their homeland persist across time, space and borders. It is a common narrative shared by anyone who has ever been forced to leave their home, either directly through force or indirectly through external pressures such as unemployment, conflict or resource shortages. The narrative surrounding refugees often looks at their final destination, depicting their origin as a place worth leaving. This is not the case, and it is paramount that we respect migrants, the places they come from, and the decisions they are forced to make.
Communications Intern at UNDP Kosovo