In January 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that barred citizens and refugees from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, and Somalia from entering the U.S for 90 days. All 7 countries being predominantly Islamic, the ban was dubbed as a ‘Muslim ban’ for its Islamophobic undertones and blatant disregard of the lives of Muslim migrants. 

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Photo © Burn A Light Productions

How Far is Home introduces us to the lives of Ahmed and Ruba Mohammed, two teenage refugees from Iraq living in Ohio. Director Apo W. Bazidi takes us into the world of the Mohammed siblings, showcasing their newfound lives, the importance of having a place to call home and what opportunities the travel ban would take away from other migrants. Ahmed and Ruba attend the Thomas Jefferson Newcomers Academy – a school built specifically to help migrant children adapt to living in America. Running at 20 minutes long, Bazidi’s documentary is a short and snappy but insightful glance into the lives of the children trying to call America their home. 

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Photo © Burn A Light Productions

Like any other school, the Thomas Jefferson Newcomers Academy offers core lessons such as English, Mathematics, and Science. But there is a slight difference to these lessons- instead of just reading out fictional creative writing pieces, students read out handwritten accounts of what it’s like coming to America. In one scene, Ruba stands in front of the class recounting how she fled from Syria to Iraq in 2012 and just how many of her school friends died that year – not your average teenage poetry. It’s not just a school, but a community of individuals coming together to connect over and overcome shared trauma. The teachers’ job specification doesn’t just stop at educating but extends to helping these students understand and navigate a land completely foreign to their own.

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Photo © Burn A Light Productions

Many of these teenagers are mature beyond their years, having witnessed tragedies and traumas that many of their western peers could never even dream of experiencing. How Far is Home comments on how quickly these children start to witness racism and inequality in America. Discussing his relationship with co-workers whilst working as a busser at a restaurant, Ahmed remarks ‘even if I say one word, they start laughing at me’ – a textbook example of the cruel prejudice many migrants face on a daily basis. Combined with a president who claims ‘there is a Muslim problem in the world’ – it’s not hard to connect that being subject to such unkind treatment at such a young age can develop into long-lasting feelings of isolation, resentment, and low self-worth. Which is exactly why these self-proclaimed ‘safe haven’ schools and areas of refuge are so essential for migrants in these turbulent times.

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Photo © Burn A Light Productions

Filled with optimism and hope, How Far is Home not only focuses on everything these children have lost but looks to the future to all they can hope to gain. Bazidi is sure to show the student’s ambitious natures and upbeat personalities – Ahmed is determined to become an X-ray technician so he can one day ‘help other people’. With over 70.8 million people currently displaced worldwide, How Far is Home is an earnest and empathetic project explaining the vital nature of safe spaces and education for migrants across the world; necessities that are endangered when such careless travel bans are set in place.

Rating:  image-2

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Photo © Burn A Light Productions

Written by Abi Aherne

 

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Film