20 Films for Refugee Week's 20th Birthday

18 - 24 June 2018 is Refugee Week. And it's something of a milestone: the twentieth year of the week which celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK through a nationwide programme of arts, culture and education.

We're helping to organise this year's celebrations in Derby. Take a look at the programme and see how you can get involved! There's something for everyone, from meals to film screenings, and an incredible chance to hear from a world-renowned author.

For the twentieth birthday, Refugee Week are challenging people to take on one of their twenty simple acts. They are things like writing a twenty word poem about refugees, reading a book about exile (our list here might help) and organising a kickabout with some refugee friends.

One of the simple acts is to watch a film inspired by an experience of crossing borders. Sticking with the theme, here are twenty films directly or indirectly dealing with the refugee experience. Let us know what we've missed in the comments!


Schindler's List

Frequently listed as one of the best films of all time and the winner of seven Oscars. Filmed in black and white in Poland, it tells the true story of Oskar Schindler, who in World War II saved the lives of over one thousand Jewish refugees by employing them in his factory.


In This World

The fictional story of two Afghans fleeing their home in Pakistan and attempting to travel to London. This film tells their story over thousands of miles, crossing various borders, and using multiple forms of transport. One of the opening scenes is of a father paying for his son to be transported overland to live in a foreign land. I could never imagine being in that situation, but it is a reality for many.


Hotel Rwanda

Sometimes known as the American Schinder’s List and filmed in Rwanda and South Africa, Hotel Rwanda tells the true story of how hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina sheltered 1268 people fleeing from the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Listed by The American Film Institute of the 100 most inspirational movies of all time.


Shooting Dogs

The title of the film comes from the fact that in Rwanda UN peacekeepers were not authorised to use their weapons to protect people from violence. Instead they were only allowed to shoot stray dogs who fed on dead bodies.  Filmed on location with many genocide survivors in acting roles and on the film crew.



A French film which highlights the desperation many people face when trying to come to England, as well as how unwelcoming Northern France is to asylum seekers.  Simon (who is breaking up with his wife) meets Bilal, a Kurdish asylum seeker. Here’s a quote to get you interested: "He walked 4000 kilometres, wants to swim the channel for a girl. I couldn’t even cross the street for you". What happens? I guess you will never know unless you watch it!


Leave to Remain

This film is about teenage asylum seekers in the UK as well as British weather, FGM, the legal system, age disputes and learning English. Toby Jones stars as a big-hearted English teacher, with other parts played by teenage refugees. "Imagine what it is like to lose everything that is familiar to you and have to cope as an adult while still a teenager, in an alien society. Their stories can tell us something important about ourselves, and the way we treat others" - Bruce Goodison, Director


The Good Lie

This 2014 release starring Reese Witherspoon tells the story of how many Sudanese people fled violence and war. This film follows three brothers who were resettled in America. As you would expect, it is moving and emotional. Perhaps more surprising is how funny it is. A good film to show friends who believe the tabloid headlines that asylum seekers come to the west for an easy life.



The clue is in the title. The beautiful scenery is in stark contrast with the brutal oppressive religious rules that the people are forced to live under in Mali. The dignity of the people, beautiful music, and bizarre scenes (such as two teams playing a football match without a ball) serve to make the situation even more desperate.


Salam Neighbor

Two filmmakers live amongst thousands of Syrians in Zaatari refugee camp and film their experience in this award-winning documentary.


Fire at Sea

This documentary constantly switches between residents of Lampedusa and those who are trying to get there by boat. I was struck by the enormous gulf between the problems of the twelve-year-old boy who lives on the island and those who are seeking safe refuge. It’s (deliberately) a painfully slow film. I looked away from the reality that the camera was recording before the camera did.



Home is a twenty-minute BAFTA-winning film. Director Daniel Mulloy made the film to ask the question "How would you survive?". In order to bring that challenge to our media-dulled minds, instead of showing images we have seen many times before he reverses the narrative and shows a family fleeing from England. From an established family living in a house in a city, they become a ragged, traumatised bunch of survivors sheltering next to a fire in an unknown destination


Wankel's Hardware Store

The shortest of these films at only two and a half minutes long. However, I think, one of the most positive. It’s just a shop that employs refugees in America. On another level it’s so much more: it’s a place of welcome, dignity, hope, employment, community, family, and integration for refugees. You can watch it here.



A tense, claustrophobic film. The action is focused on a family trapped inside their home in a city under siege. Horrible, oppressive and brutal. When I watched this at the cinema, people silently stumbled out, too numb to speak. But this is just a film. How much more terrible must reality be?


City of Ghosts

Documentary highlighting the immense bravery of undercover journalists as they document life under ISIS. Even at risk in neighbouring countries they face immense personal risk. The high level of stress is evident in their faces, bodies and trembling hands, yet they carry on. What little act of bravery can we carry out today to show solidarity with them?


First They Killed My Father

Based on the book of the same name, directed by Angelina Jolie, the film shows the chaos caused by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia which displaced millions in the 1970s.


Human Flow

Featuring drone photography and twenty-three countries, Ai Weiwei demonstrates the scale of forced migration worldwide. In a similar way to Fire At Sea, the camera does not turn away from those on the move. No solutions are suggested and instead the documentary focuses in on the worldwide scale of displaced people. Bethany called it "a work of epic proportion" in her review for us, which you can read here.


The Climb

It last a comedy! It's about the son of an Algerian immigrant called Nadir Dendoune. He rashly tells his girlfriend that he would climb Mount Everest to prove his love for her. Unfortunately, he has never been up a mountain before. With some sponsorship and lots of interest from a local radio station, is he able to make good on his promise? An inspiring film that shows what positivity and determination can achieve. Nadir Dendoune’s other exploits include riding a bike around the world and being a human shield in Iraq.


Children of Men

The year is 2027 and there are no babies as humanity is infertile. Clive Owen and Michael Caine star in this film based on the P.D. James novel. Refugees are forcibly detained, wars are frequent and terrorism is common. Supposedly set in the future, but some aspects sound uncannily familiar!


The Germans Sneeze Loudly

A short film by Katie Lyons and the team from The Guardian. People from Iran, Venezuela and Senegal give a balanced view what day to day life is like in their new countries. A great little film to challenge common views propagated by the tabloid media and certain well known politicians. Watch it here.


Ali's Story

Ali flees from Afghanistan as a child and attends school in the UK. A very powerful, emotive story retold in animated form. Perfect to educate children (and adults)! Watch the film here.


Which have you seen? What have we missed? Let us know in the comments and see you for Derby Refugee Week 2018!

#DerbyRefugeeWeek #SimpleActs

Elliot – Project Coordinator and Tutor