Telling the inside story of youth migration

Wednesday December 29 2021
The Last Shelter

The Last Shelter, by Ousmane Samassékou. PHOTO | COURTESY


Today Africa has the largest youth population in the world, and many young people are migrating due to a lack of opportunities in their home countries. Narratives in mainstream media often tell the story from the outsider’s perspective.

Now, The Last Shelter, a documentary by Malian director Ousmane Samassékou, provides access to the inside story, giving voice to young people’s hopes and desires.

The documentary, part of the Generation Africa project by South African media company Steps, is competing at the Academy Awards.

Generation Africa comprises 25 documentary films from 16 African countries, on migration from the perspective of young Africans.

The Last Shelter is set around Gao, in central Mali. At the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, stands The House of Migrants - a safe haven for those on their way to Europe or returning home after unsuccessful attempts to cross the desert or the Mediterranean Sea.

The stories of young people are witnessed through many testimonies from the House of Migrant with three women’s stories — a silent Natasha whose traumas in the Sahara have led to her losing her memory so that she can’t go home, and Esther and Kadi, two teenage girls deliberating whether to cross the desert.


Here the young people share and come to terms with their individual migration stories, feelings and needs. Some residents’ dreams have been buried in the sand, while others are optimistic and their adventure is still waiting to be lived.

The story is inspired by Samassékou’s uncle who also went on a similar journey to Europe, only to disappear and never to be heard from again.

Winning awards

The documentary premiered this year at CPH:DOX, winning the grand prize, and was screened at over 30 leading international film festivals, including HotDocs, DokFest München, Durban International Film Festival, Sydney Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, Fespaco and IDFA.

The Last Shelter won the Best African Film at Encounters in Cape Town and was the Best Film Les Escales Documentairs La Rochelle. It won the Tanit d’argent Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage and the Vincento Pinto Abreu Grand Prize Porto/Post/Doc.

“For me, making documentaries means talking about human stories so that they have a great impact on our various societies”, says Samassékou.

The film directors appeal to audiences moved by the stories to donate towards a fund for Esther to manage as a migrant in Algeria, and to obtain a skill through training and further education.

“For all our dreams, let us dare to dream big and beautiful,” says Samassékou.

The Last Shelter is a second feature for Samassékou, whose debut film Les héritiers de la colline was also a success, winning the Grand Prix du Jury at the Agadir Festival and special mention of the Jury at the AMAA Awards. He owns a production company DS Productions, along with Malian producer Andrey Diarra.

The documentary is co-produced by Diarra, with French producer Estelle Robin You for Point de Jour - Les Films du Balibari, Don Edkins and Tiny Mungwe for Steps in South Africa.

The 94th Academy Awards ceremony, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will honour the best films released between March 1 and December 31, 2021, and is scheduled to take place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California on March 27, 2022.

The nominations will be announced on February 8, 2022. This will be the first time since 2018 that the ceremony will be held in March, to avoid conflicting with the Winter Olympics.

The annual Academy Awards are regarded by many as the most prestigious and significant awards in the entertainment industry worldwide.