When Rania Ali Mustafa left home for her big journey, she took her smartphone, laptop and Game of Thrones DVDs with her. After all, what 20-year-old would leave their gadgets behind?

But browsing Facebook had taught Rania that many people in Europe seemed to have a skewed perspective of what life was like for young people on the other side of the Mediterranean. So she tossed one more gadget into her backpack, and mentally prepared herself to film her escape from Syria.

“I realised many Europeans couldn’t believe that we have phones,” she tells Times Talk. “They didn’t know what our houses were like, they thought we all dressed in a certain way. And I noticed everything being said [about refugees fleeing Syria] was by professionals – there wasn’t a single personal story.”

The footage she shot using a GoPro camera given to her by Norwegian journalist
Anders Hammer eventually became a 22-minute documentary published by the Guardian.

Rania’s Odyssey: Escape from Syria  has been viewed more than 8 million times already, and the documentary’s success has given her a springboard to launch a new life from in her adopted home of Vienna.

It could just as easily have never seen the light of day. In the seven months it took her to reach Syria, the young documentarian was teargassed, cheated and nearly drowned.

Unable to swim and unsure whether the life jacket she had been given would float, the sea voyage to Lesbos in Greece turned her stomach.

“People think so many of us [refugees] come because crossing the sea is easy. It isn’t. It’s terrifying,” she says. “You end up having to choose between that and going back to the bombs… and then you just go.”

Now 22 and living in Austria, Ms Mustafa can now put those fears behind her and focus on more constructive projects. Local NGO Kopin has brought her to Malta to interview young locals and refugees as part of an upcoming documentary she and Mr Hammer are working on called ‘Living Together’.

The project, a collaboration with Swiss NGO Terre des Hommes, seeks to provide positive examples of cultures living side-by-side.

She knows many of her compatriots are not as lucky. Her younger brother, who is still in Syria, immediately comes to mind.

“He’s seven years old. He was born at the beginning of the war,” she sighs. “He knows nothing but screaming and bombing and killing.”

Watch the full Times Talk interview in the above video.

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