A Syrian journalist featured in the Sundance documentary “Cries From Syria” says she and other activists risked death in an effort to report on the refugee crisis ravaging her country.
“At that time it was so dangerous we were crazy about the goal that we aspired for,” Kholoud Helmi said at TheWrap’s studio at the Sundance Film Festival, along with the movie’s director, Evgeny Afineevsky. “We confronted the secret police and the intelligence forces in the streets.”
Helmi, a Syrian refugee living in Turkey who would be barred from the United States under President Trump’s new ban, went on to say that she and her fellow citizen journalist friends risked their lives because no one else was reporting on the crisis.
“We took the courage to establish a newspaper that reports what’s going on because the international media was not there,” she said, adding that the regime’s state owned media was “only reporting that nothing is going on in Syria. Or if things are really stunning, they say that it’s Al-Qaeda.”
Helmi’s harrowing description of the Syrian refugee crisis comes as Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending admissions for Syrian refugees and limiting the flow of other refugees into the United States.
“Cries from Syria” is one of the most heart-rending documentaries at Sundance, with disturbing images of the civil war including infants killed by sarin gas released by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and schoolchildren tortured by the regime for writing anti-government graffiti. It’s scheduled to begin airing on HBO in March.
Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, 4.8 million people have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. Another 6.6 million have been internally displaced within Syria, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
As TheWrap previously reported, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences issued a statement Saturday, calling Trump’s executive order banning entry to anyone from seven countries including Syria “extremely troubling.”
The order could prevent Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose film “The Salesman” is a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, from entering the U.S. to attend next month’s Academy Awards.
A spokesperson for the documentary said that Helmi left the United States on Tuesday but was supposed to return in March – “but that may be quite a challenge.”
“Most of our friends are killed now,” Helmi said. “The ones who are not killed, they are in prison now.”
Watch the video above.