Lost & Found is a documentary project and an online space for lost belongings that was launched in 2016 with the aim to tell the stories of migrants through the objects most dear to them.
"My dearest brother, I miss you a lot and I will be missing you more. I asked God to make you come back to us safely and to listen to you singing with your sweet voice".
These words, written in Arabic on a piece of paper, were found by a human rights lawyer in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. They’re from a letter collected and catalogued by the Lost & Found project.
Lost & Found is a documentary film which presents a portrait of refugees journeying to Europe. Built around a number of objects lost by refugees and found by the filmmakers, the film tells the stories of the objects' owners.
A trace of their life
''Often letters, documents or toys lost along the way are the only trace that remains of the routes and former lives of these people,'' according to Associazione 21 Luglio, a human rights group taking part in the project.
Lost & Found is the brainchild of Christine Pawlata and Erika Tasini and was developed by Future Docs with the support of Advocate Europe. The idea emerged after a boat carrying migrants from Libya sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa in October 2013 and more than 360 people died.
Pawlata and Tasini wanted to find a way to represent people, like those who died in the Lampedusa shipwreck, in ways that went beyond their status as refugees – and they came up with a creative idea.
First they retraced the owners of a folder containing legal and health documents that were lost in Serbia. The owners were a human rights lawyer and his brother who later went to Vienna. Soon after that, the men had their asylum interviews, and those documents were of the utmost importance to them in the process.
Pawlata and Tasini say not all the stories were tragic – "the story of the hipster hairdresser from Iran who brought his hairdressing equipment with him, or the story of the 3D animator from Damascus who brought his necklace from home, but never wears it because his friends think that it makes him look stupid, added an element of humor that we didn't expect" they say.
An online 'lost and found office'
As part of their initial work on the film, the creators made a blog where anyone could report a found object by uploading a description and a photo, or request information on a lost object.
The site has an interactive map showing the places where the objects have been lost or found. Some of the objects that have been found include - in addition to the letter - a flute that belonged to a Syrian musician and was donated to Vangelis, the owner of a bar in Idomeni, Greece, as a token of gratitude for his help. The site also contains a smartphone lost in Macedonia, some photos and a wedding ring lost in Belgrade.
With the documentary, the creators say they ''want to reconstruct the identities and lives of the possessors of these objects and return them to their owners''.
"By doing so, we hope to also restore a piece of their identities, their history, as well as their dignity.''