"I Am David" Film Puts Human Face on Refugee Crisis

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A campaign to halt all dissident activity began in Bulgaria in 1945, and continued for decades. Hundreds of thousands of people were arrested by secret police, charged with fictitious crimes in mock trials, and imprisoned indefinitely.

Feig chose not to show the brutality of the labor camps in detail. "This is a film for everyone, both kids and their parents," he said. "If we had shown the most gruesome violence in graphic detail, it would have taken away from the real message of hope."

Seeking Asylum

A refugee is someone who flees his or her own country for fear of persecution. Of the 40 million refugees around the world, 20 million are assisted by the UN refugee agency.

"Being a refugee is having all control taken away from you," Ghedini said. "I Am David is an amazing story. Yet we meet children who travel for months at a time to flee the wars in Sierra Leone, Congo, Afghanistan, or Iraq and end up here in the United States by themselves, trying to reunite with family members here. The story happens every day. It happened then and it happens now."

The number of refugees receiving asylum in industrial countries has declined in recent years, but asylum seekers have not. "There is a greater reluctance on the part of the countries that have the most resources to be able to help the world's most vulnerable to do so," Ghedini said.

She said there is a more hostile attitude among many people in the United States toward refugees after the 9/11 attacks.

"A lot of Americans do not recall that the United States was formed by refugees who fled religious persecution," she said. "The United States has housed so many refugees and been so generous in the past, but it is just as crucial today to open our doors to people who need protection."

Success Stories

Perhaps the most famous refugee in history was Albert Einstein. But few people hear of other refugee success stories—like that of 14-year-old Afghan girl Nargiz Alizadeh.

Alizadeh's father was persecuted by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. He arranged for her to escape through Pakistan and Russia. Today Alizadeh is in a private school in San Diego on a full scholarship and plans to become a lawyer.

Her speech to the UN General Assembly on World Refugee Day last year made such a big impression that UNHCR invited her to share her story at screenings of I Am David. David's story is set in a different time, Alizadeh usually tells her captive audiences, but the emotions that he goes through—always being scared and on the run—are the same as the ones she experienced.

Feig said he knew 12-year-old actor Ben Tibber was right for the role of David because his expressionless face is typical of refugees. Aid workers who have seen the film, Feig said, have told him that they meet the same blank look in the eyes of refugees.

The director hopes his movie will bring greater empathy for refugees. "Our world has become too divisive," he said. "We have to be willing to see each others' points of view and learn to live by the words of George Bernard Shaw: All men mean well."

For more news on refugees, scroll down.

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