Olivier Jobard
& Charles Emptaz

Interviewed by Camille Khellaf and Mel Lester, MA Journalism Falmouth University


Still from film, copyright Emptaz & Jobard

A starving man is carried across the desolate Djibouti desert, dying of heatstroke – he is one of the thousands of migrants risking a perilous journey from Ethiopia towards Saudi Arabia in search of a better life.  Some never make it.

Charles Emptaz and Olivier Jobard’s documentary, ‘Ethiopian migrants make the desperate journey to Saudi Arabia via Yemen’, gained rare access to follow this exodus of the Oromo people from Ethiopia across the Red Sea and through war-ravaged Yemen. Often at the mercy of people smugglers and organised criminals, they took a route “fraught with a thousand obstacles,” said Emptaz, a News Features finalist in this year’s Rory Peck Awards. 

“Stories about cousins and brothers who have made it in Saudi Arabia…the myth of an El Dorado” persuade young men to take the trip. The reality they find is harsh – there are harrowing stories of kidnappings in Yemen, hunger, an unforgiving climate and danger at the Saudi border. 

Emptaz recounted how their central character Mustapha, shot and wounded at the border, was sent back to a hospital inside Yemen. The last they heard from him was a heart-breaking text message: ‘Everyone has abandoned me. I want to go home, but I don’t know how.’   

The journalists also had to calculate their own security risk following the migrants, but both were committed to bringing a little-known story to a wider audience. The pair were arrested by a militia group in Yemen, but Emptaz believes the traffickers posed a greater danger. The journalists had to persuade them to allow filming and not to change their minds.

Freelance journalists are uniquely positioned to report this kind of story over several months and the Rory Peck Trust helps support this way of working, said Emptaz.

“What Rory Peck Trust stands for – the work of freelancers – is very important and we need this to have more visibility, to permit this complex, free way of working and the films it allows us to make.”