Inspiring and heartbreaking stories of Syrian children, refugees and heroes to feature at the Oscars

White Helmets
Children are carried to safety by members of the White Helmets (Netflix)

Barriers to education, Children in conflicts, Education in emergencies, Refugees and internally displaced people, Right to education, Safe schools

The Best Documentary Short Film category at the annual awards highlights the trauma experienced by millions of Syrian children - and why their future must be a priority for world leaders.

The Oscars are less than a month away – and most of the talk is about who will win the big prizes for best film, director and actors.

But in one of the lesser-known categories lie real-life stories of human suffering, courage and adaptability beyond almost anything that Hollywood’s best screenwriters can imagine.

The conflict in Syria and the massive refugee crisis it caused are featured in three of the nominations for the Best Documentary Short Film category. 

They are:

  • Watani: My Homeland, about a family escaping the bombing in Aleppo and starting a new life in Germany
  • The White Helmets, about the rescuers who are first on the scene after attacks on Syrian civilians
  • 4.1 Miles, about a coast guard crew who save refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea
Watani My Homeland 1

A scene from Watani: My Homeland (ITN Productions)

Each of them is a reminder of the horrors that millions of Syrian children have experienced – and why it is vital that they get back into school and some kind of normality.

A year ago, world leaders at the Supporting Syria conference in London promised to get every refugee child in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan into school in the 2016-17 academic year. 

But 800,000 of them are still out of school – together with an estimated 1.7 million children inside Syria itself.

We need to get the attention of world leaders, who are currently preparing for the G7 summit in May. You can help by demanding they put children at the top of their agenda when they sit down to discuss the Syrian crisis. 

We know they listen to this type of pressure – so please send a message. Here’s how you can do that…

The Oscars will be held in Los Angeles on February 26. But the restrictions on travel to the United States introduced by Donald Trump mean some of the people featured in these memorable films will not be able to attend the ceremony.

Here’s a look at those three films, included among the five nominations for Best Documentary Short Film.

Watani: My Homeland

Those affected by the US travel ban include Syrian refugee Hala Kamil, who ironically gave an inspiring speech to the United Nations in New York in August.

The film tells how her family escaped the bombing in Aleppo to go to a new life in Germany. Filmed over three years, it is a follow-up to the film Children of Syria.

Hala fled with her four children after her husband Abu Ali was captured by Islamic State. She still doesn’t know if he’s alive. 

Addressing the UN on World Humanitarian Day, she described Aleppo as “a vision of hell” where schools and hospitals “were blasted into dust”.

Her daughter Sara was just four when she told film director Marcel Mettelsiefen: “I’m scared of dreams. I am walking in a house and then some snipers stand in a circle around me. And then they shoot me.”

Mettelsiefen, who made 25 trips to Syria during the filming, said of his documentaries: “Children in a war zone are so vulnerable – but I also saw such an incredible degree of resilience and I decided I wanted to tell the stories of Syrian kids caught in this crisis.”

The White Helmets

This film shows the work of the inspiring volunteers who form the Syrian Civil Defense, better known across the world as the White Helmets.

They have rescued more than 70,000 people – including many children – from the rubble after air strikes and bombings. More than 140 of the volunteers have lost their lives.

Theirworld President Sarah Brown spoke to White Helmets leader Raed al Saleh for her Better Angels podcast. He told her: “Love the people around you. Help your communities. When you work to help your communities, you’re actually spreading love and peace among each others.”

Raed is also unable to go to the Oscars because of the American travel ban.

4.1 Miles

This tells the story of the European migrant crisis through the ship’s captain and his crew who spend their days saving thousands of refugees – including many Syrians – who are crammed into tiny boats.

More than 5000 refugees were drowned, suffocated or crushed to death while attempting to cross the Mediterranean and Aegean seas in 2016.

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