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IC Students Document Struggles of Syrian Refugees in Detroit

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad had forced her and her family to flee in terror to country after country, so it wasn’t her anger that was surprising.

It was her age. 

The two pink pom-poms on her sequined beanie hint at an innocence all but gone, and her vengeance is exacted as only a five-year-old knows how.

She picks a fiery red-orange crayon and channels her hatred.

“Since Bashar bombed the children, I drew him being bombed.”

After a minute, she proudly shows the camera her drawing. He’s bloodied and dying.

“This is my revenge.”

The scene unfolds in a new 15-minute documentary shot last fall by five Ithaca College students. Titled “Stateless: Syrian Refugees in Detroit,” it was recently named an “Editors’ Pick” by The Atlantic.



On five different trips, the group of junior and senior students drove just seven hours from Ithaca and into one of the world’s largest refugee crises since World War II.

“It was an adrenaline rush,” said Josh Margolis ’17, associate producer and technical engineer. “It was a lot to tackle, but you just keep working until you make it happen. There’s nothing that separates us from people in the news industry. This was one of the biggest stories in the world, and we were there, covering it with the big dogs.”

The students started with $2,000 from Professor Ben Crane’s documentary workshop class. With some early footage, they raised another $2,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo. In the end, they broke even, putting their last $50 toward film festival submissions, including the College Television Awards, known informally as “The College Emmys.”

The other members of the group, called 1 Stop Media, included Erica Moriarty ’16, Mike Holland ’16, Sam Dellert ’17, and Hannah Basciano ’17.

The film documents a number of families as their multi-country journey ends—they hope—in their new homes in suburban Detroit, an area with America’s highest concentration of Arab Americans.

But not everyone is welcoming in Dearborn, Mich., or as one fiery protester calls it, “Dearborn-istan.”

The film juxtaposes images of an anti-Muslim protest with the everyday mundanities of the refugees’ new lives in the suburbs. As the protesters, some of them armed, describe the violent nature of Muslim culture, the youngest refugees frolic in the snow and play soccer in an apartment parking lot.

Inside, their families waver between fear and hope. Having fled violence, they want no more.

“My primary concern is that my kids receive the best education possible,” says Samir, an appreciative father, while sipping tea. “How could you not be grateful to America? We want to work with America to make this place a better environment… We want to help. How would we benefit from harming the community?”

In another scene, a white woman argues, “Look at the Middle East. Alls they do is fight, fight, fight. Look at their cities. They’re blown up. They’re messes. Do we even want to invite that culture here?”

Some of those who were against resettling Muslim refugees, including a Michigan state representative, were hesitant to go on camera. Co-producer Hannah Basciano ’17 had to convince them.

“I told them that while even if I don’t agree with them, their opinions are shared by a lot of Americans,” she said. “It was important to have their voices heard.”

As for the Syrians, their wounds are still raw despite the physical and mental distances they’ve traveled, and a crisis across the globe remains close by.

For one little girl in the film, her new suburban home is still haunted by the images of her homeland. She looks up from coloring to describe the wounded children she saw there.

“They were bleeding from here and here and here and here,” she continues.

But today, somewhere outside Detroit, amid a war of words, the bleeding has stopped for these families, and the healing has begun.



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