A Day in the Life of Refugees

A desperately ill child sets out for medical treatment. A Coast Guard team keeps watch overnight. An Iraqi becomes an American. Meet them all in a single Day…in the Life of Refugees.

Greta Van Susteren narrates as Voice of America deploys more than 75 news teams in 32 countries to chronicle how forced displacement affects the rich and the poor, newcomers and their hosts, those in flight, and those out to stop them.
More than two years in the making, this feature-length documentary film debuted on World Refugee Day -- June 20, 2021.

  • John Lippman
  • Arthur Rasco
  • John Lippman
  • Arthur Rasco
  • Gary Butterworth
  • Greta Van Susteren
    Key Cast
  • John Lippman
  • Arthur Rasco
    Facing Darkness, Displaced
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature, Television
  • Genres:
    Human rights, international affairs, migration, refugee, displacement, refugees, IDPs, VOA
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 35 minutes 58 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    June 20, 2021
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cameroon, Colombia, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the, Ethiopia, France, Georgia, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Conference on Migration and Media Awareness
    October 29, 2021
    European premiere (tentative)
  • Luleå International Film Festival
    Best Feature Documentary
  • Max Diversity Film Festival
Distribution Information
  • Voice of America
    Country: Worldwide
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - John Lippman, Arthur Rasco

John Lippman is Voice of America’s Acting Director for Programming, guiding the activities of VOA’s 47 different language newsrooms providing news and information to VOA’s global audience. At USAGM/BBG since 2009, Lippman has also served as Acting Director of USAGM’s Office of Performance Review, in charge of the internal program critiquing and coaching functions of U.S. international broadcasting; as interim General Manager of Radio/TV Marti, and as VOA’s Deputy Director for Programming. Before entering government, Lippman was senior vice president for news and operations at Univision television, the U.S. Spanish language media company, and worked as a news executive for television stations in Los Angeles, California, and Seattle, Washington. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College, where he majored in history and urban studies

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Director Statement

Thirty-two countries. Seventy-five production teams. One single day--World Refugee Day. On June 20, 2019, Voice of America mobilized our extensive network of journalists to capture the totality of forced displacement around the world. This documentary film is the result.

"A Day in the Life of Refugees" starts before dawn aboard a Coast Guard vessel in Greece. Across the Mediterranean, an Eritrean family is thinking about making the dangerous sea journey from Libya to Europe, despite warnings from a local volunteer. That same day, a desperately ill Rohingya child's long-awaited surgery sees yet another delay. We meet the Dalai Lama, a diplomat, and an intern. A Haitian waits in Mexico, while an Afghan plays a "game" in Bosnia. In Jordan, a baby is born into uncertainty.

There is no shortage of documentaries about migration. Recent Peabody Award winners, such as "Frontline: Exodus" (2016) and "POV: Midnight Traveler" (2019), have made important contributions to the public discourse on displacement. But despite the abundance of high-quality films about the refugee experience, we know of no single documentary that attempts to paint a comprehensive, character-driven portrait of the current state of international migration. To fill this void, VOA drew inspiration from David Elliot Cohen and Rick Smolan's 1986 bestselling photobook, "A Day in the Life of America." Cohen and Smolan's were considered bold to even attempt to chronicle the totality of the American experience in one single day, yet we attempted something even more ambitious.

Many forces may cause people to flee their homes, yet these same forces often bring Voice of America to a region. Indeed, for nearly 80 years, VOA has come running to places experiencing upheaval. We have built deep, enduring connections with journalists and audiences in some of the world's most challenging environments. We broadcast the news in 47 languages, and we speak dozens more. These unique resources and connections enabled us to take on this challenge.

Though 32 countries were ultimately featured in this film, VOA did not travel internationally for shoot day. Instead, we relied mostly on local videographers. Under the principle of "nothing about us without us," the majority of this project's camerapersons were members of a community hosting displaced persons or irregular migrants. This is important. Our film is not an advocacy piece; it seeks nuance and understanding. Responsible concerns raised by local communities, politicians, and law enforcement officers need to be heard. This film hears them.

Today, more 80 million people worldwide are experiencing displacement. With migration policy a political issue in numerous countries, their stories are more important than ever. But while a vague awareness of refugees is not news, centering dozens of their stories is quietly groundbreaking.

Midway through "A Day in the Life of Refugees," a Coast Guardsman mentions the importance of music on his overnight patrols. Narrator Greta Van Susteren notes that this remark is prompted by a song written by Mark Knopfler, the son of a refugee. As the crew patrols the Strait, they seem unaware of this fact. Perhaps this is appropriate, as many displaced persons live anonymously at society's margins. But in "A Day in the Life of Refugees," that anonymity is the exception.

The voiceless need a voice. Voice of America produced "A Day in the Life of Refugees" because these stories need to be told and because we believed that were uniquely capable of telling them. We think we succeeded. As is always the case, though, it is up to our audience to make that determination. So, please, give us a watch, and let us know your thoughts.

Voice of America is grateful for your attention.