Our documentary is about LGBT refugees who have escaped their lives in their home countries to seek refuge in Germany. It covers the stories of tortured, broken but very resilient souls who have tried to find a better life for themselves in a country that they didn’t know anything about to begin with.
Germany hosts some of the largest number of refugees from troubled regions like the Middle East and Africa, which is why Germany became our focus. In late October, we jetted off to Berlin to follow our first contributor: Ibrahim Mokdad, an LGBT activist from Lebanon who migrated to Cologne last fall.
Ibrahim was happy to meet us and expressed enthusiasm to be a part of the film. We first met him in Berlin to shoot a conference meeting where he spoke to an audience of mainly German people about the plight of refugees, as well as his own journey. We then conveniently took the train with him to Cologne, where we interviewed him and spent 3 days getting a glimpse into his life and his activist work.
‘Sofra,’ which in Arabic means dining table, is an event Ibrahim co-founded that brings together refugees from all backgrounds and sexual orientations on a monthly basis to a single space so they can socialise, eat and have fun with one another.
After spending this time with Ibrahim, we packed up and said our goodbyes and headed towards Frankfurt, our final destination. When we arrived, we hadn’t met our contributors yet, so we decided to film cutaways in the meantime!
Once the cutaways are finished we met up with Kate, our contact for Rainbow Refugees Frankfurt at a café in Konstablerwache. We were introduced to our two potential Frankfurt contributors: Hamid and Ali, transgender women from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Meeting them for the first time was a bit nerve-wrecking, particularly because we all knew we had to be impressionable. We really wanted Hamid and Ali to participate because they had such interesting stories to tell from what Kate told us initially. Hamid only speaks Dari and Urdu, while Ali speaks fluent Farsi and some English. So, knowing a little bit of Persian and being fluent in Urdu, I (Rawal) had to lead the conversations here. When the time was set and we all met at the café, we all ordered some coffee and gave Ali and Hamid a brief of what our documentary is about.
Hamid and Ali were both interesting people, fascinating in their own ways. Hamid was very open and down to earth, while Ali was quiet and curious. Both of them had escaped their lives from their respective countries for different reasons.
Hamid had a tumultuous life back at home. Realising from an early age her sexual identity (and preferences) she had always identified as being a woman inside a man’s body. This wasn’t something which she could live out in her society, as she said in her own words, ‘people don’t know that such a phenomenon even exists’, meaning people would often explain her sexuality as an ‘illness’ and something which one could prescribe medication for.
The more extreme side; was the experiences she had with corrupt civil servants and officers. Countries like Afghanistan can often be described as very collective societies. Through word of mouth certain people found out her sexual preference was for men and not women. People started to approach her and offer money in exchange for sexual favours. They even forced her to dance in women’s dress.
Throughout the documentary she tells us how she had struggled in Afghanistan and how she crossed several countries to gain entry into Europe.
Ali had a lot to share with us. She is a transgender woman who was born in Iran but grew up in Iraq most of her life and like Hamid, crossed several countries to come to Germany.
She told us about the laws in Iran, how they differ from laws in Germany and certainly with the rest of the Muslim world. Interestingly, she informed us that Iran is the only Muslim country to host the largest amount of sex-change operations in the Middle East. On a global scale, that puts Iran behind Thailand. The grand Ayatollah (cleric) of Iran concluded in the 1980s that as long as a man can get surgery to become a woman before having intercourse with a man, the Islamic code is not broken.
However, she elaborated that this does not mean Iranian society is tolerant towards transgender people. She still faced a lot of discrimination from the people around her, including her family.
While this trip only lasted less than two weeks, it seemed to me, Emma, and Danni that we had absorbed a year’s worth of information. It was both emotional and gratifying to meet people like Hamid, Ali and Ibrahim. They taught us a lot about what people have to go through to just stay alive. In essence, this is what their struggle was about; the fight to stay alive and carry on. In any case, our interview with Ali was the last of our shoots, marking the end of a two-week journey to meet an incredible people.
Danni Xin, Rawal Khan, Emma Wheeler and Rebecca Young