Throughout history, there have always been refugees. They used to come from places closer to home. In the last years of WW II, the family of Swiss director Markus Imhoof, a small boy of four years at that time, took in Giovanna, an undernourished eight-year-old Italian street child as part of a limited-term program for children from war-torn countries. After half a year, she had to go back to Italy – “One mustn’t form too much of an emotional connection” said the Red Cross. The Imhoof family privately arranged for Giovanna to come back for a second time. In the end, the Swiss government insisted again on sending Giovanna back to Italy, as only foreign workers had the right to stay. She died of illness at the age of thirteen, soon after being forced to return.
Imhoof takes this early experience of personal loss as a point of entry to the on-going refugee crisis, the biggest mass displacement of people since WW II. With extraordinary insights, Imhoof takes us on a journey – intertwined with his personal story – aboard the Italian warships of “Operation Mare Nostrum,” inside the governmental refugee camps in Southern Italy, the refugee Ghetto of the Mafia, along difficult attempts to cross the border to Switzerland, into asylum hearings with Swiss authorities, only to see how most of the hopeful have to return back to their home countries, finding themselves in the same situation as before the journey. What the film doesn’t show: today the situation is even worse, the Italian marine prevents the refugees to reach their “Eldorado” – the European coast. The boats are sent back immediately to Libya, where they end up in notorious prisons, where blackmailing, sexual abuse and slave traffic are a daily business – all financed by the European Union.