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Dutch public experience refugee life in the heart of Amsterdam

Dutch public experience refugee life in the heart of Amsterdam

Two filmmakers have opened a window to the life of Chechen refugees in Ingushetia by screening their documentary film, "Sheltered Life", in a UNHCR refugee tent in Amsterdam's Leidseplein Square.
24 March 2003
"Filmtent for a Refugee" reaching out to the public in Amsterdam's Leidseplein Square.

AMSTERDAM, March 24 (UNHCR) - It was an unusual sight for passers-by in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam last weekend - a UNHCR tent set up amid the sunlit terraces of the bustling city centre.

While people on the streets were enjoying the warmth of spring in Leidseplein Square, visitors inside the tent were confronted with the life of Chechens in refugee camps in Ingushetia.

Two old beds, an old television set, some carpets and boxes to sit on were all the comforts on offer. One side of the tent was converted to a film screen - like an open window to the world of Chechen refugees. This was an improvised cinema where a documentary film on Chechen refugees, "Sheltered Life", was shown.

In 2002, Dutch filmmakers Ingrid Bosma and Job Groenewegen of Join Media visited two camps in Ingushetia - Alina and Sputnik - to make a documentary film on the life of Chechen refugees who had fled their homes in Chechnya following the outbreak of hostilities between Russian forces and armed Chechen groups in the fall of 1999. More than three years later, nearly 100,000 Chechens are still displaced, living in the neighbouring republic of Ingushetia. The vast majority of them live with host families, others are staying in tent camps or in so-called spontaneous settlements.

"During our stay in the camps, we were struck by the force of these people in tough and adverse conditions, and their will to survive," said Bosma. "This is what we tried to capture on film."

"Sheltered Life" shows how these Chechen refugees try to continue their lives in and around the tents - mother preparing breakfast, cleaning the home, children learning in school, even young people falling in love. Many of the refugees portrayed in the film long to return to Chechnya, but fear the insecurity in their homeland.

Screening "Sheltered Life", a film about Chechen refugees in Ingushetia's camps, under a UNHCR tent.

Although "Sheltered Life" has been selected for several international film festivals (including Geneva's festival of human rights films in March and April), the filmmakers wanted to do more to recreate the experience of life under a tent. This led to the project, "Filmtent for a Refugee", whereby the film is presented to audiences within a genuine UNHCR tent.

"I found it very impressive," said visitor Leonie, who attended the first screening in Amsterdam with her 12-year-old daughter. "Normally, we only see refugees on TV when there's a big crisis. But here we realise how it really is to have to live like a refugee."

As she spoke, a man with his young son passed by. "See," the father explained to his child, "if people in Iraq have to run away, they'll have to live in tents like that. And that's not very nice!"

Over the coming months, "Filmtent for a Refugee" will be presented all over the Netherlands, allowing viewers to experience the life of Chechen refugees - both on screen and in a tented home.