Refugee Mario: The video game of the migrant crisis

  • 12 September 2015

It's not quite what you'd imagine when you think of Super Mario and his adventures through the fictional Mushroom Kingdom: a satirical take on the original Nintendo video game is being used to explain the reality for Syrians crossing Europe.

Through the character "Refugee Mario," this YouTube video shows the perilous journey taken by thousands seeking refuge in Europe. Gone are Luigi and Princess Peach. Smugglers take Mario on a risky journey across the Mediterranean Sea where he eventually encounters Hungarian border guards and is thrown into prison. At several points throughout the video Refugee Mario faces obstacles which lead to his death.

The video was made by a 29 year old Syrian man based in Istanbul, Turkey. Going only by a pseudonym Samir Al-Mufti, for what he cites as security reasons, he told us how he came up with the idea. "A lot of my friends have fled for Europe. From talking to them I built a clear idea of what they went through and the life threatening risks they took".

"Five months ago my best friend drowned in the sea while travelling from Ismir (Turkey) to Greece. The engine on the boat exploded. That's when I got the idea for the video," Samir told BBC Trending.

"It needed to be a simple and clear idea which would work irrespective of language. I used Super Mario because it's famous all over the world. It's like music - a universal language," he said.

The video has been watched by thousands on YouTube and Facebook since being uploaded by the company Online For Media Production, which makes satirical political content often about Syria. It has generated a far reaching conversation. "That surprised me," says Samir. It's not just Syrian people watching this. People all over the world are talking about it."

Samir's personal story has also deeply inspired his work. Originally from Homs, where some of the most fierce fighting took place during the height of the conflict, he fled in 2011. "Before the revolution, I was a student in Homs University studying French in the Faculty of Literature. I also worked in a company as a PR officer," he says.

But after two of his brothers were killed, Samir fled to Turkey via Egypt, taking is parents and sister with him. His participation in protests against the regime of Bashar al-Assad was another reason to leave. "I was portrayed as a protest leader after being carried on the shoulders of the demonstrators. This was a mistake. I'm not a member of any rebel group or political organisation," he says.

Image copyright ONLINE4MP.COM
Image caption "Samir" uses animated video to impersonate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

Despite leaving his homeland and using a pseudonym, Samir is still a sharp critic of President Bashar al-Assad. He uses a unique talent to make animated videos which poke fun at Assad's speeches.

"My voice is very similar to Assad. It's a gift that I can mock Assad's voice." He says. "I discovered this gift before the revolution started and I knew deep inside that I would take advantage of it at some point in the future." Samir's parody videos of Assad's speeches have become very popular on YouTube. "In one of the videos I announced Assad was stepping down," Samir says. "This forced Syria's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to issue a public statement denying Assad's departure."

It could be seen as a risky way to make a living, but as far as Samir is concerned he doesn't have anything to lose. "It's very lonely now," he says, referring to the death of his brothers. "It was for our freedom. It's not a big price to pay. We used to live in Syria without any dignity or freedom. We don't have anything now. It's so disappointing to see what is happening with this refugee crisis. It's life or death. We have to make our own futures".

Reporting by Anne-Marie Tomchak

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