In this World

By Tony Grisoni


An exclusive production diary of Michael Winterbottom’s extraordinary new drama about the international traffic in people  

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” – Inscription on the Statue of Liberty, New York City  

There are some six billion people in the world. The International Organisation for Migration estimates that around 200 million people live outside their country of origin.

February 2002
We are trying to make a film about an illegal business, legally. We are tracing one of the main overland routes for trafficking people. It’s part of the old Silk Road, whereby opium, petrol, tobacco or people are passed along a chain from one contact to another. We are working from a distillation of first-hand accounts of refugees’ journeys. Director Michael Winterbottom is casting non-actors, people we meet along the way whose circumstances are close to those of our characters. We'll follow the route taken by two young Afghanis, Jamal and Enayatullah, from the Pakistan/Afghan border – through western Pakistan to Iran, Turkey, Italy, France and finally to Britain. Associate producer Fiona Neilson and myself are travelling ahead of the crew. The people and situations we find feed directly back into our enterprise. We are in search of faces and places.

Peshawar, Pakistan
Today’s border between Afghanistan and Pakistan was drawn in 1893 as part of the British Empire’s need to buffer Russian imperialism. For many people the border has little meaning. Electrical goods, opium, car parts and hash all flow freely across it. There are very few import duties to pay. In 2001, as a result of the huge numbers of refugees fleeing the U.S. bombing campaign, the authorities declared the border closed to people.

How Rambo saved my life
Hashim runs a minicab firm in Peshawar. On the wall there’s a poster of Sly Stallone in Rambo III – his muscled arms cradling serious weapons. "...Rambo saved my life. This poster used to hang in my taxi office in Kabul. One day the Religious Police pay us a visit, the usual thing. They start getting rough. Then one of them sees the poster. He says, ‘you know this man?’ I say, ‘that’s Sylvester Stallone,’ He says, ‘well, I want to see him here – now! I want him to hand over those weapons. I want him modestly dressed and I want him to grow that beard!’ So I say, ‘no problem. I know where he lives. I’ll go get him now.’ I slip out the door. I never went back."

Quetta, Capital of Baluchistan, Pakistan
The city sits at the junction of roads connecting Iran with central Pakistan and the trade route out of Afghanistan to the Arabian Sea in the south. Industries: agriculture, especially fruit (dates), mineral and gas mining, weapon manufacture and opium refinement. A four year regional drought has halved herds, caused orchards to be abandoned and devastated the economy. The Sunni Muslim Taliban attempted to exterminate the Hazara ethnic minority in Afghanistan whom they despised as Shi'ite heretics. Ali is a young Hazara. He is getting married tomorrow. His photograph hangs in a frame over the fireplace. Paper decorations loop from the low ceiling. Ali left Afghanistan to escape persecution. Karim Khalil, the Hazara leader, says, "the main political idea of the Taliban was that the Tajiks should live in Tajikistan, Uzbeks in Uzbekistan and the Hazaras and Shias in the graveyard." At the border town of Taftan, our main characters, Jamal and Enayatullah, meet their next contact. There are many desert tracks used by smugglers to circumnavigate the tedious bureaucracy of the border control.

Farid, car mechanic, moneychanger and smuggler
Farid would also quite like to be a movie star in a Hindi film. He has just sent an email to an English girl he says is his fiancée (she was a traveller he met 5 years ago). He helped her change her money before she crossed the border into Iran. The official exchange rate of rupees to Iranian is around 130-1, but Farid can get 100-1 from Western tourists. Farid’s Hotmail address is ‘Rocking Heart’.

March 2002, Zahedan, Iran
A frontier town, capital of its province and distribution point for smuggled goods from Pakistan. There are some 2.1 million Afghani refugees in Iran.

"...I was very young when I first picked up a gun, because I was obliged to defend Afghanistan when the Russians invaded. When the war was over, I put down my gun and started working like an ordinary man. I grew fruit, apples and grapes. Then the Taliban came. I was asked to fight again but I refused. I was sick of fighting. My father-in-law found an agent in Kabul and asked him if they could take me out of the country. I had no passport and no visa. And so I came to Zahedan. This place costs 10 Rupees a night if you want a bed. Most don’t have any money. I didn’t when I came. But the owner liked me and so he gave me this job. I have been here 10 years. I have a wife and 14 other members of my family in Kabul. I am 45 years old."

Behrooz – the Ali Baba of Yazd
Behrooz runs an internet cafe and learnt English from bootleg Eddie Murphy videos. He longs to escape this backwater of Iran. Meanwhile, he spends all he has on the luxury apartment he’s building for himself above the cafe. A lot of people come through his place. All kinds. He likes the Afghanis. He thinks they should be proud of themselves. All the new developments in Tehran are being built by immigrant Afghani workers. Afghanis make good builders. Jamal and Enayatullah make the illegal crossing from Iran to Turkey through the Ararat mountain range.

Wolves and the Jandarma
“We take all kinds of stuff over the border. Sometimes we take people too. You have to tell them to keep quiet in case there’s a patrol. And you have to keep them moving. If it starts getting light before you get there you just have to come back. They said that maybe another one froze to death last week. They try to get over the border but they don’t know the way.  

And there are wolves too. They get hungry in the winter and you have to beat them off with your stick. They’ve got this trick – one shows and lures the dog away. Then the whole pack jump on him and tear him to bits. Sometimes they get caught by the Jandarma. Sometimes they get shot." – A young Kurdish boy living close to the Turkish border.  

You can only claim asylum in Turkey if you arrive illegally. Officially, there are some 20,000 Afghanis in Turkey. 8,000 live in Istanbul.

A metal box and a tiger
Erham makes cheap cutlery, barbecue grills and reinforced metal trunks out of tin. Occasionally, a police friend of his turns up with illegal immigrants. Erham buys the illegals, they then work off what they owe him. He had a box made for the transportation of a tiger once. It was a beautiful job, except that the worker who assembled it put the breathing holes in the wrong place and the animal suffocated. He’s proud of his sideline in people smuggling. He supplies a demand. And he provides a good value service. He likes to be there in person and wave a little farewell to his clients before the doors close and they’re shipped across the final stretch of water that’ll see them home and free in Europe. Jamal, Eneyatullah and others are stowed away in a container which is loaded onto the ferry bound for Europe. It's a journey that has ended tragically for many.

April 2002, Fortress Europe
Schengen countries share a common external border. The Schengen Agreement was adopted as a convention in 1990. Article 26 requires states to impose carrier sanctions on all passengers, without the correct travel documents, who arrive from outside the Schengen area.

Sangatte Refugee Camp, France
"We come from all over – Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, China... But we all look the same in the end. Wherever we finish up, we’ll always be foreigners, we’ll always be refugees..."  

Sangatte closed in December 2002. The closure won't stop more desperate people from arriving in search of refuge. They'll face the Channel same as ever, and now the prospect of sleeping rough around Calais in the middle of winter.  

"I was in England. I went with my friends. I was living in London ­­– in Stroud Green. We asked for political asylum then we waited. I got a job at a pizzeria. I worked hard. The boss trusted me. Soon he gives me the keys, to open up in the morning. Every morning I get up and unlock the restaurant... Then we hear the news. My friends get asylum. They can stay. But I don’t. The police come for me early in the morning and they send me back. I don’t even have time to say goodbye to my friends. I don’t have time to speak with my boss. What must he think of me now?... But I will go back. I will go back to England and unlock the pizzeria."

The US spends $1.40 per American per year on refugee organisations. In the UK the figure is $1.15. In New Zealand $0.25.  

The US spends $1.5 billion on defence each day. The cost of the US bombing of Afghanistan in 2001 is estimated at $30,000,000,000. The cost of a war on Iraq is estimated at $37 billion for 2 months and a further $8 billion for every additional month of combat.

"Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Universe, the Compassionate, the Merciful, Sovereign of the Day of Judgement! You alone we worship, and to You alone we turn for help." – from The Koran

Tony Grisoni is a screenwriter. For further biographical details, please see page 37. In This World, written by Tony Grisoni, will be released in the UK in Spring 2003