Illegal or Dead

Sorious Samura joined African migrants trying to make it to Europe for menial jobs and loneliness.

A screen grab of Sorious Samura in the migrant camp outside Cueta (from "Living with Illegals").

I am not sure about the ethics involved in making this film or how much of the experiences of Sierra Leonean-British journalist Sorious Samura here are staged. But “Living with Illegals,” Samura 50-minute documentary first made for a British TV channel in 2007, makes for compelling and depressing viewing.

To investigate undocumented migration from Africa to the European Union, Samura (who is originally from Sierra Leone and made films about the civil war there) decides to become an undocumented migrant. There’s a bit of the dramatic about it: “… Samura wants to understand the reality of being an illegal immigrant, so he lives in the exact same conditions and experiences the same grueling hardships as his companions.”

This film is the third in a series of “Living with …” In the first, “Living with Hunger,” he went to live in an Ethiopian village for a month to highlight global hunger. In a second, “Living with Aids,” he went to work in a hospital in Zambia. The third, “Living with Refugees,” saw him traveling with a family from Darfur in Sudan to a refugee camp in Chad.

He freely mixes with migrants – they refer to themselves collectively as “camarades” or comrades – in Morocco, Spain, France and the UK (the final destination for most of them). The first place in Europe most migrants usually land in, is Spain. The film starts in a migrant camp outside Cueta, the Spanish enclave on Moroccan soil. Samura puts his life at risk to make the film: He sleeps rough, begs, trusts smugglers, and hides in trucks to cross borders. It is unclear how much of this real. (Samura clearly has a small crew traveling with him. And one gets the sense Samura took breaks from the journey to return to his warm bed. I am not judging him for that. Who wouldn’t?)

You root for the migrants.  Samura is definitely pro-immigration and so is the channel that first commissioned the film.  “It is difficult not to be moved by the journey Samura undertakes, and by those who face death in the face for the hope of a new life in the UK.” Samura says he is not allowed to help the men.

The migrants are all mostly men. Samura does not interview women migrants although you notice some women migrants at least once in the film.

At times Samura can’t get his head around why these migrants risk their lives for menial jobs and loneliness.  One tells him: “I am ready to do any kind of job. If I have to I’ll wash the toilets, bathrooms or train stations and I’ll be very happy. Forget I am a graduate.”

Later a Sudanese migrant who has been deported three times from the UK and who Samura grows close to, tells the filmmaker: “I have no choice. What do you prefer? To stay illegally or to die?”

Update: The film is now on Youtube.

Further Reading

Fifty Four Kingdoms

The apparel and accessory company, 54 Kingdoms, makes fashion with “a pan-Africanist sensibility.” They thought the African Cup of Nations is a good place to start.