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WILSONS’ CLIENT WINS BAFTA

Date posted: 2 March 2020

A top tip I give to anyone starting out as a lawyer and needing to build case prep skills is essentially to visualise the client’s narrative. So, my top tip goes like this:

“Watch” the client’s narrative like a film and then allow your curious, genuinely interested mind to ask whichever questions arise to make sense of the film you’re “watching”, filling holes in the narrative and providing explanations where needed”

Of course, I never dreamt that one day one of my clients would, in real life, make a film of their case; or that the film would win a BAFTA and go on to be nominated for an Oscar.

Neither could I imagine that I would experience the greatest resistance to actually watching the film. Even though I recognised I was in the presence of heroes from the moment I met my client, her husband and their playful two year old daughter, Sama.

The following lines are my notes from our first meeting but they’re also a succinct summary of Waad’s film, “For Sama”:

 

“Attending Zahed and Waad – married Syrian couple. Also present daughter Sama born 2016.

 

Zahed is a doctor and Waad is an activist/journalist. They were in Aleppo. Waad was commissioned by Channel 4 news and others to make filmed reports from Aleppo. Was doing that from November 2012 until December 2016. C4 news from sept 2015. Otherwise was also reporting for Al Aarabiya, Orient TV, Deutsche Weile (DW tv) and also had a project with Al Jazeera. Waad won about 16 awards including – the three most high profile:

 

  • Emmy award for foreign news coverage – USA (New York) – 5th October 2017
  • RTS – UK – (four awards) – 28th February 2017
  • Rory Peck trust award – UK – 23rd October 2017

 

 

That’s just a few of the awards.

 

Waad’s background – she studied marketing at Aleppo university. She was in her fourth year when stopped studies in 2012. By then Waad was filming and protesting and so didn’t report for her final exam because she was afraid of arrest.

 

So, basically, Waad is an international award winning journalist/reporter/activist/film maker who fears persecution if returned to Syria. Fled Syria in January 2017 – evacuated out of Aleppo. After siege, the Russians and Red Crescent organised the safe exit of around 34,000 civilians from Aleppo. That’s when Waad and Zahed took their daughter Sama and left Syria for Turkey because it was the last opportunity.

 

About Zahed, Zahed is a qualified medical doctor. Graduated in February 2012. During that time was protesting in Aleppo – Zahed is from there.In July 2012, Zahed moved to the eastern part of Aleppo – not controlled by the Syrian regime because he wanted to support the protesters and provide medical help. Zahed and Waad married 26th December 2014. There was no functioning hospital. There was a building. Zahed started it and recruited other doctors. Al Quds hospital. by early 2013, eastern Aleppo was established as a rebel stronghold – lots of groups. Lots of shelling and the hospital was targeted several times. 27th April 2016, the hospital was bombed again – the biggest attack on this date – 50 people were killed. Zahed acted as the hospital director – he was the head of the hospital. roughly 9 doctors working with Zahed and about 25 nurses and technicians and about other 25 non medical. Several medical agencies were supporting. There were several news reports including filmed reports about zahed’s work at the hospital – he went by the name Hamza.”

 

I’m looking again at that line I wrote in my notes:

“So, basically, Waad is an international award winning journalist/reporter/activist/film maker who fears persecution if returned to Syria.”

The word “basically” was me clocking that I was in the presence of super-humans and trying not to get too mind-blown by that.

But it’s the paragraph about Zahed’s activities that I found particularly overwhelming. I still remember his matter of fact delivery and my pretend matter of fact note-taking: Zahed started up a hospital because there was no other functioning hospital in besieged Aleppo and “27th April 2016, the hospital was bombed again … 50 people were killed.”

My brilliant team mate, Hannah Lynes, helped sort out UK government protection for Waad, Zahed and Sama in the form of refugee status and then I helped bring their baby Taima over by making a family reunion application for her.

The case ended but I was happy to keep in touch with Waad and Zahed, obviously, because they are amazing people.

In early February, I read on Twitter that Waad’s film “For Sama” won a BAFTA and then I watched her deliver her award acceptance speech, admired her dress and cried.

All month, I kept telling myself and others that I really wanted to watch the film. In fact, I was sort of hoping it had dropped off All 4 so it was too late and I’d missed it, alas.

My daughter, Lila, and her friends in Sussex Uni’s STAR (Student Action for Refugees) group saw “For Sama” and were deeply moved, deeply affected. I told Lila that Waad was my client and Lila was, like: wow, and I felt so proud.

But, still, I couldn’t bring myself to see it.

The mistake I made was to share Waad’s news at a Wilsons immigration partners’ meeting last week. It was right at the end of the meeting as people were shuffling papers and getting ready to leave when I muttered that one of my clients had won a BAFTA and was Oscar nominated for her film.

Can you imagine the look of awe, shock and puzzlement on my partners’ faces? Awe for Waad’s tremendous achievement; shock and puzzlement that I hadn’t immediately thought to write a news piece for our website as a marketing tool.

The thing is: in order to write a news piece in order to market our firm, I would have to watch the film …

So, I went home, found “For Sama” so easily on All 4 and then I made some notes while crying a lot. The speech marks are around Waad’s poetic, heart-wrenching words to Sama.

Starts with a massacre in east Aleppo and recounts the story of a group of medics, led by dr Hamza,who set up a hospital during the siege of Aleppo.

 

“Things have got so bad now.”

 

They live in the hospital and try to make it as homely as possible for Sama while Assad regime’s missiles strike and kill children and sirens sound. Two boys holding and mourning their young brother.

 

A mother cradled her son, her darling: Mohammad Ameen is dead.

 

Dr – children have nothing to do with this.

 

The excitement of the Arab spring.

 

Throwing snowballs.

 

Falling in love. Getting married, first home, getting pregnant.

 

Difficult choice between leaving a city under siege and remaining.

 

Waad to sama: “You gave me hope to start anew.”

 

“…in the quiet that follows a massacre.”

 

“We try to give you what childhood we can.”

 

“My happiness would vanish every time I heard Russian war planes.”

 

 

 

The only way back in was a narrow road to Aleppo – went back in because each of us has a mission to fight for justice

 

Risk lives to sneak back on to Aleppo with sama

 

Happy siege!

 

Boy with paper cut out friends

 

Some people stayed but they’re getting killed one after another

 

300 patients every day.

 

Hamza is in charge of it all

 

Even the water is cut off

 

Alaa, wake up!

 

Rooms full of the dead and blood

 

Hamza and Waad playing with sama

 

No time to feel anything

 

Bombed out buildings like skeletons

 

“The regime’s forces are advancing”

 

A family of 10 is hit by a missile as they try to get out

 

A little girl crying: I want my daddy!

 

A mother screaming over child’s body: we never made it!

 

“You never cry like a normal baby would. That’s what breaks my heart.”

 

Help us

 

Bombs, cluster bombs, even chlorine gas

 

But no one does anything to stop the regime

 

This is it

 

“The regime’s forces are only one street away.”

 

The UN called hamza with a message from the Russians: surrender

 

Dec 2016 6 months of siege,

 

Saying goodbye is worse than death

 

We will return

 

The city is dust and rubble collapsed buildings

 

The regime can’t be trusted but there’s only one way out

 

Waad and Hamza stay until the end to make sure all the wounded get out

 

We received more than 6000 wounded people

 

“The silence makes you feel the city is dead.”

 

Evacuated, afraid of being stopped at a checkpoint because Hamza face recognizable from the need interviews.

 

“We made it you silly thing!”

 

 

 

Here’s a link to Waad’s BAFTA acceptance speech.

 

Here’s a link to Channel 4’s news item about For Sama’s Oscar nomination.

 

Additional note: at time of writing, Syrian government forces continue their advance into Idlib province amid warnings of an impending massacre on a scale that has not been seen during the war. One million people have fled Idlib and the UN are calling the situation a “crisis on a monumental scale” while urging the international community to urgently reach a political solution. Meanwhile, war threatens between Turkey, Syria and their allies.

 

If you need assistance in connection with an immigration case please contact our appointments secretary Dionne on 020 8885 7979 or by email at d.smith@wilsonllp.co.uk.