In Living with Illegals, award-winning journalist Sorious Samura becomes an illegal immigrant. His journey is epic as he travels from Morocco into Europe through Spain and France, finally crossing the English Channel to Britain.
Samura wants to understand the reality of being an illegal immigrant, so he lives in the exact same conditions and experiences the same gruelling hardships as his companions. The story begins in Northern Morocco, where hundreds of illegal immigrants live in forests waiting for their chance to break into the enclave of Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in Africa. For them, Europe means work: “I am ready to do any kind of job. If I have to I’ll wash the toilets, bathrooms or train stations and I’ll be very happy. Forget I am a graduate”.
All that separates them from Ceuta and Europe is a 50km, 6m fence, around which they camp. Huddled together in cold, flimsy tents and hounded by daily police raids, the immigrants struggle to survive with no food, money or peace of mind, but their determination to reach the promised land is unyielding. Samura meets Gus and Theo who have decided to swim around the fence and thus into Europe, an extremely dangerous method of entry which many have paid for with their lives. The next day news arrives that only Theo made it to other side. Gus was captured. Samura leaves the Moroccan forest and meets with Theo in Ceuta. Together they try to earn some money parking cars. Samura soon discovers a derelict factory known as the Longhouse where those on the run from immigration authorities live. The conditions are horrifying. For these people, the dream of Europe has already turned into a nightmare. Samura travels through several cities of mainland Spain where he begs, sleeps rough, performs odd jobs and learns inside tricks to survive as an immigrant. He encounters Thommy, a stranger of amazing generosity, who helps him raise money to continue his journey.
He also meets people who try to con him out of his earnings. The world of the newly arrived immigrant, Samura soon learns, has at least as many pitfalls as ladders. Through a connection man, Samura crosses the Spanish/ French border, and onwards by train he reaches Calais. This is the hub for all immigrants trying to enter the UK. Samura is surprised to find living conditions and scenes of desperation as bad as those in Morocco. Arick, a Sudanese immigrant, explains: “Every second, every minute I am trying to get to England. At least in London they treat you like a human being”. That night, Samura and Arick break into a lorry heading for the UK. Once inside they must stay completely still, but after an hour of waiting they are caught and arrested. In the end, through astonishing circumstances, both Sorious and Arick do reach their final destination. It has been an incredible journey, but was all the suffering really worth it? ‘Living with Illegals’ is one of this year’s most extraordinary documentaries. Offering unprecedented access and unique insights into the world of African illegal immigration, it raises important questions about the rights of individuals to seek a better life free of poverty and war. Produced for Channel 4, UK.