EN / FR / NL

About Unheard Stories

Unheard Stories is an online film festival organised by the European Commission as part of the communication activities of the Facility for Refugees in Turkey on the occasion of World Refugee Day 2021. The European Union provides support to refugees and host communities in Turkey through various projects, which are implemented by the European Union’s (EU) international partners and Turkish ministries.

Turkey’s geographical position makes it a first reception and transit country for many refugees and migrants. As a result, the country has been hosting around four million refugees, the highest number in the world. This includes 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees , and 330 000 registered refugees and asylum seekers mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Somalia

The EU is committed to assisting Turkey in this challenge, and is highly invested in supporting refugees and host communities in Turkey, by providing essential humanitarian and development assistance. This includes access to education, health and protection services, as well as investing in municipal infrastructure, skills development and job creation. The central mechanism to coordinate this support is the Facility for Refugees in Turkey.

The Facility for Refugees in Turkey is a key component of the 2016 EU-Turkey Statement, and marks a significant scaling-up of EU support to refugees in Turkey. The Facility combines €3 billion of EU budget and €3 billion of EU Member States contributions. The first tranche of €3 billion was mobilised in 2016-2017, and the second one in 2018-2019. Since 2016, the EU has been working with Turkish Ministries, EU Member States’ development banks, international financial institutions, UN agencies and NGOs to implement more than 100 refugee projects in Turkey.

For more information, please visit FRIT Factsheet and the website below:


About the Selection

Every year on World Refugee Day (20 June), we honor those who had to flee their homes and leave their previous lives behind. Unheard Stories is a week-long online film festival featuring ten films from directors of various origins who have chosen to explore some of the challenges and lived experiences of refugees in various host countries, while highlighting individual stories. The films speak of different aspects of refugees’ lives, for example their obstacles in building a new life while maintaining their identity in a new country, as well as their experiences building new relationships and their hurdles in establishing themselves in new and previously foreign places.

The festival’s kicks off with a film by a true cinematic master with a career spanning 6 decades: Želimir Žilnik’s 2015 documentary Logbook_Serbistan. In this incisive docu-drama, written in collaboration with the film’s protagonists (who are refugees), Žilnik shows us migrants’ experiences in Serbia’s refugee centres, and the complex period of adaptation to life in Serbia before their potential further journey to the EU.

The medium-length documentary Ballad for Syria by filmmaker Eda Elif Tibet depicts the need for a community, wherever we go. It follows the protagonist Maisa Alhafez and the Oriental Istanbul Mosaic Choir which she conducts. Being side by side, and singing songs together, Alhafez and the choir community heal the wounds of being displaced from their homes, while creating new ones.

As for Maisa Alhafez, Istanbul has been the new home for director Malaz Usta. The Damascus-born filmmaker who now studies filmmaking in Turkey, brilliantly visualises what it means to live in a place that feels like an exile. In A Year in Exile, we are not only invited to listen to Malaz’s story, but also have a chance to see a new Istanbul.

The Unheard Stories of refugees in Istanbul continues with the award-winning documentary Mr. Gay Syria. Taking place in Berlin and Istanbul, the film follows Husein, a 24-year-old barber who escaped to Istanbul, and Mahmoud, a gay Syrian refugee working part-time at an NGO in Berlin. What brings them together is a crazy dream: joining the international Mr. Gay World beauty contest hosted in Malta.

Gevar’s Land is a powerful documentary showing the struggles of a man named Gevar in his quest to make a new place home. Born in the Syrian Damas suburbs, the director Qutaiba Barhamji skillfully tells the story of Gevar, who with his family had to flee from Syria and settled in Reims, France. The film depicts Gevar making a heartfelt effort to create a place that could be his home, by focusing his time and energy on a spot of land in a community garden where he can grow watermelons, zucchinis, and eggplants. Filmmaker Qutaiba Barhamji films him and his family over four seasons as they settle on this new ground that often rebels against their hopes.

A more self-reflexive journey of an everlasting search for the meaning of home comes from Şirin Bahar Demirel, a Turkish visual artist with her debut documentary Women’s Country. In this beautiful essay-film, Demirel reflects on her migration to the USA, blending her experiences with Fatima and Huda, who have been displaced by the war in Syria and resettled to Florida. What does it mean to build a new home for each of these individual women? There are many temporary settlements for refugees before they reach their new homes. Through his documentary Bitter Bread the Iraqi-French filmmaker Abbas Fahdel takes us to the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, showing us the lives of the refugees who spent a harsh winter living and working under the supervision of a local administrator from whom they rent their land, earn their wages, and to whom they are indebted.

Acclaimed Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz, also takes us to another temporary settlement- Berlin’s historic building Tempelhof Airport. Central Airport THF becomes the temporary home for refugees like the protagonists of the film, Ibrahim from Syria and Qutaiba from Iraq.

The journey to have ‘a new life’ is long, tiresome, and dangerous. In Sam Peeters documentary, Azadi, we see the unusual transit zone, the island of Lesvos, unfolding while contrasting the goodness of locals with the inhumanity of bureaucratic apparatus.

In their award-winning short Mare Nostrum the Syrian-French filmmaker duo Rana Kazkaz and Anas Khalaf powerfully depict what ordinary people may be driven to in extraordinary circumstances.

Through our film festival, Unheard Stories, we welcome you to explore the lives of people whose voices are often times not heard or ignored, giving them a chance to tell their own stories, with the help of attentive filmmakers.