IT WILL BE CHAOS is an inside look at the human consequences of the refugee crisis spanning the Mediterranean, as told through the harrowing stories of brave asylum seekers, as well as the Italian locals who must cope with a massive influx of newcomers arriving with virtually nothing. Directed by Lorena Luciano and Filippo Piscopo, the timely documentary debuts MONDAY, JUNE 18 (8:00-9:35 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO, in conjunction with World Refugee Day, June 20.
The film will also be available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO and partners’ streaming platforms.
IT WILL BE CHAOS highlights the story of Aregai, an Eritrean man fleeing repression and deprivation, who embarks on a risky Mediterranean crossing from Libya. The overloaded boat capsizes, killing hundreds, but he is rescued by Italian fishermen, only to become ensnared in the country’s faltering immigration system. Elsewhere, Syrians Wael and Doha make the perilous Mediterranean crossing from Turkey with their four young children in a small dinghy, followed by a long, taxing trek to Germany.
Stirring and complex, IT WILL BE CHAOS offers a harrowing look at what refugees go through when they are forced to escape war and terror at home, and risk their lives in search of a future for their families. This revealing documentary highlights some of the troubling anti-immigrant populism and logistical issues they encounter after reaching the shores of Europe, which prevent them from living in freedom and safety.
In 2013, off the island of Lampedusa, Italy, a boat carrying asylum seekers capsized and caught fire, killing more than 300 Eritreans and Somalis. It was one of dozens of such accidents that have resulted from traffickers using unsafe boats. From 2011 to 2018, it’s estimated that more than 18,000 people lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean trying to seek safety in Europe, although the real figure is unknown, since many deaths are never recorded. Rescued by Italian fishermen, Aregai was the only one of his cousins to survive the journey.
For Lampedusa mayor Giusi Nicolini, the distinction between calling refugees “asylum seekers” and “illegals” is critical, since Italy’s policy “is conceived to push them back.” But while Nicolini acknowledges refugees’ concerns, the DA has charged them with illegal immigration – and Lampedusa residents are protesting the fact that they’ve been left to handle this crisis without federal government support.
Aregai endured harsh conditions and earned meager wages when he was forced to serve 15 years in the military. He began his escape from Eritrea by crossing the border into Sudan, where he remained for three years before embarking on a dangerous trek to Libya with little food. From there, he boarded the deadly expedition to Lampedusa.
While under investigation in Italy for illegal immigration, Aregai is called to testify in the trial of the boat’s captain, but is unable to positively identify the man. After being released from police detention, he goes underground, squatting with his aunt in a structurally unstable former government building in Rome. Later, Aregai prepares to board a flight to Stockholm bearing fake papers, armed with three words of advice from his cousin: “Don’t show fear.”
Two years later, in Izmir, Turkey, Syrian refugee Wael Orfahli fights to get his wife, Doha, four young children and nephew to Germany, where his brother lives. Having fled Syria 20 days earlier, the Orfahlis arrange a boat trip to Greece through a smuggler, but are stopped by police. While awaiting their next chance at migration, they are stunned when they see photos of their home in Damascus, which has been reduced to rubble by rockets. Following the harrowing journey on a small rubber boat and a short-lived separation from their children in Greece, Wael and Doha continue their journey, primarily on foot, through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Austria.
After 24 days of cold, hunger, fatigue and anxiety, the family arrives in Ohrdruf, Germany, where they wait in a camp for papers, but are happily reunited with Wael’s brother. Others won’t be so lucky. A few months later the E.U. seals its borders, leaving thousands of migrants stranded in Turkey.
Small towns in Italy have been overwhelmed by the refugee crisis. In Riace, which has seen its population dwindle since WWII, the relocation of more than 200 asylum seekers is championed by the Italian government. But residents are wary, and worried refugees remain in limbo, still without papers as the relocation initiative nears its end. In Falerna, asylum seekers struggle to live in houses without water and find few opportunities to earn a living. Mayors must answer to refugees while facing their own economic challenges.
Italy is also home to Europe’s largest migrant detention center, Sant’Anna di Crotone, a prison-like facility housing 1,500 refugees. Cameras are allowed inside for the first time during a visit from Minister for Integration Cecile Kyenge, but things quickly turn chaotic after migrants’ futile attempts to plead their case to her. Meanwhile, as the clash between newcomers and locals escalates, nationalist protests calling for an end to immigration are on the rise around Italy.
Today, Aregai lives in Sweden and works as a cook in a refugee center. Every year, he travels back to Lampedusa to honor fellow migrants who perished at sea. In Germany, the Orfahlis have also been granted asylum. Though he misses Syria, Wael says wistfully, “We had a good life. Now it’s the kids’ turn.”