Long Synopsis

NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL - documentary by Richard C. Ledes

NO HUMAN IS ILLEGAL is a personal encounter with the refugees currently detained on the Greek island of Lesvos. The island’s history of receiving refugees illustrated by a black and white photograph Ledes connects with his own family’s history as Greek refugees from Turkey who came to the United States in the 1920s. The five places on the island where refugees are currently housed are each shown with their particular characteristics. The beauty and tranquility of the island is contrasted with scenes of the devastation in the towns and cities that refugees name as the homes they left behind. Turning to the ancient history of the island, the filmmaker shows the central square of the main town as he refers to the famous poet Sappho who was born and taught on Lesvos and then--while the sun sets behind NATO ships--recounts a crisis of ancient Athenian democracy in which the island plays a key role and which Thucydides recounts in his History of the Peloponnesian War. A contemporary Greek curator of a museum devoted to the history of earlier periods of refugees on the island elaborates on the historical conditions that gave rise to the wave of refugees in the 1920s. The filmmaker asks Greek inhabitants of the island whether they believe being descended from refugees makes a person more sympathetic to the current ones. He receives contradictory answers. A Spanish lifeguard stands amidst a vast depository of life jackets that have been used by refugees and that are piled together in a remote area of the island, far from the beaches. The lifeguard explains that he is standing on what is known locally as the “cemetery of life jackets”. Ledes states that there are at least two traumas associated with becoming a refugee: first, the loss of a home and, second, the voyage that follows departure. The filmmaker then speaks with refugees about their voyage to the island, first over land and then by sea. A triptych of amateur videos shows the unprecedented number of boats carrying refugees arriving during the past year while Ledes remarks on the near absence of major NGOs on the beaches as the boats arrived. This absence is contrasted to the presence of small groups of volunteers. These volunteers speak of the conditions of the refugees as they arrived and what they did to comfort them and, in many cases, to rescue them. The story of one particularly deadly sinking of a boat is recounted from multiple perspectives. The focus then shifts to the decision by the European Union to send back to Turkey people described as “irregular migrants” that arrived after March 20th, 2016--a date only a few weeks after which Ledes and his crew began filming. Portions of the first two deportations from the island are shown in slow-motion. Various people with whom Ledes has spoken earlier in the film express their views regarding deportations. The filmmaker then speaks with refugees about their hopes for the future. Ledes states that on the margins of his family is a journey his father’s parents took as refugees almost a hundred years ago and that today on the margins of  Europe are refugees detained whose fate is likely central to the future of Europe. The filmmaker translates and reads a stanza of a love poem by Sappho. A Kurdish refugee who has been otherwise unable to speak sings a song he has written about love.