Five years on, the civil war in Syria shows no signs of abating. In the greatest refugee crisis of all time — an estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes, and 13.5 million Syrians are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance in their homeland. It's one of the gravest humanitarian crises the world has ever seen, and the scale of it is shaking the whole political world.
All over the world, doors are closing. UNHCR report:
"European states which once welcomed Syrians are now bringing down the shutters in the wake of increasing numbers of refugees seeking safety there. Several countries have imposed entry and border restrictions, leading to a build-up of tens of thousands of refugees in Greece, while the European Union is in discussions with Turkey on an agreement that could potentially see asylum-seekers sent back to Turkey. Meanwhile, refugees in countries neighbouring Syria are more vulnerable than ever and taking increased risks to survive - embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe or resorting to dangerous survival strategies such as child labour, early marriage or sexual exploitation."
Now, Lena Headey — who plays the part of Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones — is taking a stand.
'The Flood' Is A First For British Film-Making
Television and film may be about entertainment, but the best shows and movies also dare to tackle real issues. And Lena Headey's been watching the developing crisis with a very real sense of heartache and sorrow. Nobody who follows Headey on Twitter can have failed to notice her social conscience, but she's stepping into the limelight as she takes on a central role in The Flood.
In this upcoming drama, Headey portrays an immigration official who's charged with determining the fate of asylum seekers entering the UK. The Flood centers in on the story of Eritrean refugee Haile, who has fled the war-torn African country and made his way to the UK via the controversial Calais camp. The script is based on real-life accounts from people working for the Home Office, and was inspired after a tragic incident in the UK where 35 immigrants from Afghanistan were discovered in a shipping container in Essex, some of whom died during the journey.
It's clear making this film has shaken Headey to her core.
"I understand there are safety issues, and screenings for security, but it could be so much more human and compassionate. It’s horrendous that after the journeys that these refugees go through, they are then treated immediately with suspicion and fear.
I get it, this is a crisis with so many levels, but we have also lost sight of the fact it’s not a ‘problem’, it’s people, it’s other human beings. And we’re dehumanising them."
A Deeply Disturbing Glimpse Into A Real Crisis
The Flood certainly won't be light viewing, but it will be a real attempt to show the truth of what's going on in the refugee crisis. The drama reunites Headey with writer Helen Kingston and director Anthony Woodley; they previously worked together on the 2015 sci-fi The Carrier. And, although Headey has clearly reached her own conclusions about the refugee crisis, she insists The Flood will simply present the evidence, and let you reach your own conclusions.
"Helen has written a beautiful script that manages to highlight the complexity of the refugee crisis whilst telling an intimate human story, without ever demanding where the audience should stand."
As for Headey herself, though, she desperately hopes that The Flood will inspire the kind of conversations we saw after the release of I, Daniel Blake. Pope Francis recently compared the refugee camps on Lesbos to "concentration camps", and Headey visited these camps last year. On the one hand, she was struck by the #refugees' desperate insistence that they were not terrorists; on the other, though, she's noted what she describes as "massive discontentment" among the men living in the makeshift camps.
Headey knows that stepping forward like this is going to get her a lot of flak, but she's seen these horrors first-hand and she feels she has no choice.
"People look at actors who speak out and say ‘oh well, it’s so easy for them’. There are a lot of people who are saying ‘it’s all right for you, you champagne socialist’ but that’s fucking bollocks, I’m just a human being with a conscience.
My kids need to know that I gave a shit – that’s what drives me most,” Headey added. “I’m a jobbing actor, this is what I do to make cash, but sometimes I do projects where I make no cash because it’s about making something that will hopefully get people talking."
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No doubt she's right; the sad truth is that opinions towards the refugees are hardening across Europe, especially in the UK, where the British Government recently ended a scheme to help 3,000 refugee children — after providing aid to just 350. It's without a doubt, though, that the refugee crisis is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time — and the role of the media is surely to shine a light on that.