Surprising Europe, an Open Archive of Stories About Migration

Screenshot from Episode 09 "Home Sweet Home." "Evariste has returned to Burkina Faso after working in Italy. Now he feels free and is happy again."

Screenshot from Episode 09 “Home Sweet Home.” “Evariste has returned to Burkina Faso after working in Italy. Now he feels free and is happy again.”

There are millions of them. They live scattered across our continent, Europe. They are all categorised as immigrantsDespite this, none of them have the same story. Each one is different from the other. Therefore, if we wanted to tell everyone's life story, it would take thousands of books.

However, there is an online project that helps to establish contact with these people who are generically labelled as migrants. It helps to overcome prejudices and stereotypes and improve people's knowledge about them. Surprising Europe belongs to them, an open book, written by many people and supported by pictures and videos. Personal stories, successes, failures and hopes are “written” on this platform. It is the immigrants who tell their story in first person.

It is surprising when you find out how much strength is necessary to overcome language barriers, bureaucracy, and relationships. It is surprising when you find out how many would like to go home and cannot. Many go back and tell their friends: it is better if we build our future here, in our land. It is surprising when this message is sent: better poor but free. It is surprising when you find out that even in Europe there are poor people and when someone admits that the old continent is not the paradise they dreamed of.

And it is surprising when, on the contrary, someone sees their dream come true, those who succeed through music, those who build a career in a factory, those who study and set up a freelance profession. In this open space, the words are not abridged and experiences find a way of becoming a common, shared heritage. This site highlights lives on the margins of society, but also successes. You have to enter without preconceptions, without imagining what you will find, as when meeting friends, where one topic leads to another.

The idea—a non-profit project—aims to document the experiences of legal but also illegal migration. It was created by Witfilm Amsterdam and Ssuuna Goloob, who arrived in Europe from Uganda to see with his own eyes if what he had heard about our countries and how we live here was true. A project that many believe in, judging by the sponsors: from Al Jazeera, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, to the International Organisation for Migration and the European Union Fund for repatriation.

It is no coincidence that the idea was born in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, as it is regarded as one of the cities with the largest number of nationalities present: 176 out of a total of 811,000 inhabitants (the metropolitan area on the other hand has a population of 1.6 million inhabitants).

The website is divided into six categories: Leaving for Europe, Life in Europe, Short on luck, Getting down to work, Going back, Music. A project within the project is some television series. Each one different but related by some themes. Stories of desperation, but also stories that are a source of inspiration, hope and creativity. The dark side and the triumphant side. The fight, sometimes defeat, often success. The protagonists themselves worked on the television series, which has already been broadcast on Al Jazeera and on Dutch public television. In this case as well they try to avoid filters, interpretations and judgments.

The project also has a hymn, “Surprising Europe”. It is sung by Annie, who was born in Italy, with Liberian origins. And it is to Liberia that she would like to return. To get to know her land and maybe live there. Annie is now part of a “mixed” Afro band, Pepe Soup. They want to convey a message to the world: UNITE!

Surprising Europe belongs to them, the immigrants, but it also belongs to anyone who wants to better understand and get to know these immigrants. And to go a little deeper into their lives.

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