Desperate to escape Syria, Abdullah Sallam left the Syrian port city of Latakia on a boat headed for the Italian island of Lampedusa in October 2013. The boat sank halfway between Malta and Sicily, killing 250 people. Sallam made his way from Lampedusa to Milan without a word of Italian. He was trying to get to Sweden, the only country promising permanent residency to any Syrian seeking asylum. The only problem was that he could not get caught at any European border in between Italy and Sweden because, as a Palestinian-Syrian, he was officially stateless.
The reality of many Palestinian-Syrian refugees is – if possible – even more complicated than that of Syrian refugees. Palestinian-Syrians are stateless. They do not carry Palestinian documents, as there is no Palestinian state, and they were never granted Syrian citizenship or papers. The generations of Palestinian-Syrians who were born and raised in camps like Yarmouk are ineligible for many refugee services and confined by borders that don’t recognise them. At every border they try to cross, Palestinian-Syrians risk being sent back to the country they’re trying to escape.
In a twist of fate that’s more real than fiction, Sallam met an Italian journalist and a Palestinian poet in the Milan train station. The group begin to brainstorm ways to get Sallam to Sweden, settling on using a wedding party decoy. They recruited a Palestinian-Syrian family and some Italian friends and set off in a convoy, filming all the way.
The documentary-meets-road-trip-film crowdfunded into existence is an uplifting example of the best of humanity in action. A story rooted in desperation, Sallam’s journey to Sweden is ultimately a testament to his own determination, luck, and the overpowering humanity and selflessness of those who threw in their lot with him.
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