Europa, directed by Haider Rashid, is a harrowing account of three days in a young Iraqi migrant’s attempt to enter Europe by crossing the border from Turkey to Bulgaria. As soon as the people smugglers are paid off, in the middle of the night, the migrants—mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria—are shoved across the border, where they are instantly captured or even shot to death by Bulgarian authorities. Kamal (Adam Ali) is thrown to the ground and his hands tied behind his back. Voices call out, “Go back. No Europe.” In the chaos and darkness, Kamal manages to escape into a nearby forest and free his hands.

In a written introduction, Rashid and co-screenwriter Sonia Giannetto explain that “The arrival of immigrants in Europe is handled by criminal organisations operating in complicity with border police forces and high-ranking government officials.” But the immediate threats to Kamal and the others are the self-proclaimed “immigrant hunters” who delight in robbing, beating up and killing the immigrants. It is worth noting that the migrants have zero interest in staying in Bulgaria; they want to pass through the country as quickly as possible on their way to Western Europe. So the attacks of the immigrant hunters are motivated only by greed and racism.

Wearing a jersey of the great Egyptian football (soccer) star Mohamed Saleh, the hero of Liverpool, Kamal scrambles through the unknown forest. Hiding in a tree, he watches as Bulgarians shoot to death one of the migrants who was part of his party.

Rashid and director of photography Jacopo Maria Caramella shot almost the entire film in hand-held close-up, which intensifies Kamal’s unrelenting sense of fear, desperation and determination. In addition, they shot the film in sequence, increasing the feeling of immediacy.

Rashid’s own father fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1978, using this same “Balkan Route” portrayed in Europa.

Rashid has made it clear that Europa is merely a slice-of-life, an episode in the story of a single immigrant. We know nothing of what his life was like back in Iraq, nor do we know what motivated him to leave. We also do not know what will happen to Kamal if and when he reaches Western Europe. The experience of such a traumatic journey never leaves a migrant’s consciousness, even if he or she achieves a presumed “happy ending.”