4.1 Miles

PBS Premiere: June 26, 2017Check the broadcast schedule »

Lesson Plan: The Global Refugee Crisis: A Community Responds

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Daphne Matziaraki's film 4.1 Miles follows local coast guard officers stationed off the Greek island of Lesbos, where thousands of refugees have braved the Mediterranean to flee conflicts at home. The waters of this small island were once tranquil, but the Coast Guard now finds itself overwhelmed by the task of saving hundreds of migrants from drowning at sea every week. Docks previously lined with restaurants have become makeshift first-response centers for the enormous number of people attempting to make the crossing--more than 600,000 from Turkey alone in 2015. As one migrant's body is carried out, an onlooker desperately yells, "The world needs to know what's happening here! We can't be going through this alone!" Nominated for the 2017 Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject.

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Current Events, Global Migration, Human Rights, Refugees and Immigration


  1. What circumstances might force you (or your family) to abandon your home and leave your country? Where do you think you would go? How do you think the residents of your new country would react to you and your family?
  2. What comes to mind when you hear the words "migrant" and "refugee"? What are some positive and negative representations of migrants and refugees that you have seen in the media?
  3. What personal experience do you have with these issues? Are there refugee and/or immigrant families or communities in your town? Do you know of any programs or organizations in your area that support refugees and immigrants?

(The following definitions are adapted from www.merriam-webster.com)

  • Immigrant: a person who comes to a country with the intention of living and working there
  • Migrant: a person who goes from one place to another within their own country or across international borders, usually to find or follow work
  • Refugee: a person who flees their community or country to escape danger or persecution and seeks refuge in a new location


  1. What surprised you most about the refugee experience depicted in 4.1 Miles? How did this compare with your previous perception of refugees?
  2. According to Kyriakos Papadopoulos, the Greek coast guard captain in the film, what prompted the refugees to flee their homelands? Why are hundreds of refugee boats heading to the small Greek island of Lesbos rather than the mainland of Greece? What challenges does that present for the people of Lesbos?
  3. In the film, Papadopoulos says, "You cannot even begin to compare the numbers. Every hour that goes by, 10 of us are asked to rescue an influx of 200 people." He goes on to ask, "Is it up to us to help all of them?" Why do you think Papadopoulos and his team have not had more international support? Whose responsibility is it to help refugees fleeing war and danger in their home countries?
  4. In an interview with POV, filmmaker Daphne Matziaraki commented, "We don't all confront the refugee crisis with the same immediacy as the coast guard captain does. But as our world becomes more interconnected, and more violent, we do all face a choice: Would we act as he does, to save the life of stranger? Or would we turn away?" How would you respond to Matziaraki's questions? How do you think your community would respond to a refugee crisis like the one in Lesbos? How should countries like the United States respond to the refugee crisis?

A Story to Tell
There are currently more than 65 million people displaced worldwide--the highest number on record since the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) began collecting statistics. At least 15 conflicts have erupted or reignited around the world since 2010, contributing to this crisis. When we watch the news it's easy to forget that all refugees do not have the same experiences. In their home countries, many attended school or worked as teachers, doctors, or professionals. Every refugee has an individual story to tell. Identify programs and organizations in your area that support refugees and learn about the asylum process for refugees who want to enter the United States. Ask for permission to collaborate with and interview refugees to document their unique oral histories. (Be sure to protect the refugees' privacy and identities as needed.) Help challenge misinformation and stereotypes about refugees by sharing their stories online and at community events and local schools and colleges.


Get Involved!
The size and scope of the refugee crisis are so overwhelming that it is often difficult to imagine how we can make a meaningful contribution. Here are several things you can do in your own community to help:

Become a Volunteer
Most refugee support programs need help from local volunteers with a wide variety of services. The Refugee Center offers a free online course for volunteers to gain the necessary training, information and skills to provide meaningful support to refugees. It also offers an online directory of local organizations that may need volunteers.

Be a Host
Organize regular dinner parties and potlucks with refugee families and individuals in your area. As Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, explains, "Coming here is very lonely, and having a friend locally who will have you for dinner or you can have, that is a big thing." Visit the Refugee Center website to connect with refugees in your area and check out the Hello Neighbor project in Pittsburgh for tips on building connections with refugees through food and friendship.

Become a Tutor and a Mentor
Refugee children face multiple challenges when starting new lives in new countries. In addition to facing language and cultural barriers, they have often been away from school for months (or years) and need academic help as well as peers or adults to show them the ropes. Adults can connect with local organizations and schools to find out what kind of tutoring and mentoring services are needed. Teenagers can help organize school-based clubs that welcome new students, provide peer support with classwork and help them navigate school culture.

Universe of Obligation: Why Should We Care About Refugees?
How do we act as citizens of this world when other human beings need us?
Sociologist Helen Fein coined the phrase "universe of obligation" to describe the group of individuals "toward whom obligations are owed, to whom rules apply and whose injuries call for amends." The ways in which individuals, communities and nations determine who should get a helping hand has a lot to do with how we define our universes of obligation. After watching the film 4.1 Miles, discuss what our personal and collective responsibility to the refugee crisis should (or should not) be using the following prompts. After the discussion, research and identify specific and doable actions (if any) that each person can take in response to the refugee crisis.

  • Who is in your universe of obligation? What individuals and groups might you include?
  • Where does your universe of obligation begin? Where does it end? What might cause those boundaries to shift?
  • What are some ways that the concept of the universe of obligation was demonstrated in 4.1 Miles?
  • Is there a difference between a nation's universe of obligation and those of individuals and groups?
  • What are some arguments for and against including refugees in our (or our country's) universe of obligation? What are the risks and benefits associated with each argument?

The Film

Greek Council for Refugees (GCR)
The GCR website provides education and outreach resources for and about refugee programs in Greece.

Refugee Center Online (RCO)
RCO uses technology to help refugees and immigrants build new lives in the United States.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR)
UNHCR provides information on the global refugee crises and programs to safeguard the rights and well being of refugees.

Allison Milewski has developed media education resources for a range of award-winning filmmakers and national media organizations and is also the founder of PhotoForward.org.