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Refugee film-maker cleaning COVID hospital wards

27 August 20200 comments

A Syrian refugee turned award-winning film-maker has signed up to become a London hospital cleaner during the COVID-19 crisis.

Hassan Akkad, who fled his homeland after being jailed by the regime of Bashar Al Assad, arrived in the UK in late 2015, documenting his perilous  journey for a BBC film that went on to win a BAFTA Award.

Mr Akkad said signing up to clean COVID-19 wards was his way of repaying the British people for affording him safety.

“London has been my home since leaving Syria, and the least I can do is making sure my neighbours and the amazing NHS staff are safe and sound,” he said.

In a now viral tweet, Mr Akkad said he was “honoured to join an army of cleaners disinfecting COVID wards at our local hospital after receiving training”.

And he made an emotional plea for people to embrace diversity as he praised NHS staff who come from all over the world.

“The nurses and the ward hosts and the cleaners and the porters are the spine of the hospital,” said Hassan Akkad on UK TV, as he fought back tears.

“And they are from everywhere, the Caribbean, Chad, the Philippines, Spain, Poland.

“I hope if this teaches us one thing, it teaches us to be kinder to one another despite where we come from. I hope this changes us for the best,” Mr Akkad said.

He arrived in the UK after 87 days of traveling fleeing his home and job as an English teacher in Damascus, Syria.

Mr Akkad’s film, titled ‘Exodus: Our Journey to Europe’, shares the tory and experience of many refugees fleeing conflict.

The story unfolds in a ground-breaking way with the production company providing Mr Akkad and five other refugees with camera phones to record their tumultuous journeys to seek refuge in Europe.

In one scene, a few hours into Mr Akkad’s crossing from Turkey to Greece in an overcrowded dinghy he realises things are looking bad for him and the 50 other refugees in the boat. He notices that there is half a foot of water in the boat. Gradually, the mounting alarm is caught on camera, as Akkad films the doomed journey on a hidden camera.

A woman hugs her two children and says to her fellow passengers, who are piled on top of each other to stop moving.

Another woman complains: “You are very heavy and you are sitting on my leg.” A further refugee, looking uncertainly out at rippling waves, says: “Thank God, the sea is fine.”

Watching the footage of his narrow escape brings back painful memories for Mr Akkad.

But he hopes the film will educate viewers about the refugee crisis.

“When you watch the news and see the movement of millions of people, you don’t identify with any of them. I wanted to humanise the story. I want people to understand what made us leave and what happened to us on the way,” Mr Akkad said.

He said that actually filming his journey risky because the people traffickers were suspicious of cameras.

“For them the camera is like a Kalashnikov,” he said.

Mr Akkad says that the mood towards refugees has hardened in the months since he arrived in the UK, and he was particularly depressed by a controversial poster produced by anti-migration party Ukip, released a week before the Brexit referendum, showing queues of Syrian refugees crossing from Croatia to Slovenia.

“It broke my heart when I saw that poster. Those are traumatised people. They have been tortured, lost family members. These people could have been my neighbours. I hope this film will show people it’s not what you think. I hope my footage helps people understand,” Mr Akkad said.