CRITIQUE | Amnesty International’s #LookBeyondBorders Campaign

Breaking Barriers and Fostering Empathy in Europe 

“Look Beyond Borders” is a five minute short film and social experiment, created by Amnesty International Poland and DDB&Tribal, a Polish ad agency. The video focuses on breaking the barriers between recently resettled refugees and European natives. The experiment was based off of a psychological theory developed by Arthur Aron, that states that only four minutes of continuous eye contact are necessary to develop intimacy or a relationship between two individuals.

In the video, an ordinary individual from Belgium, Germany, Poland, or the United Kingdom is sitting in an empty warehouse across from a Syrian or Somalian refugee, who had been in Europe for less than a year. The actors were not staged and the reactions were spontaneous and genuine. The film shows the human interactions between the two individuals who had never met one another before, but by the end of the four minutes, had developed a connection.

The director of Amnesty International Poland Headquarters Draginja Nadażdin said,

“Too often, what gets lost in the numbers and headlines is the suffering of actual people, who, like us, have families, friends, their own stories, dreams and goals. What if we stopped for just a moment and looked at who they really are? Borders exist between countries, not people. And it is imperative that our governments start putting people before borders and their own short-term political gain.”

Nadazdin encompassed the overarching goals of this video: create empathy by breaking down barriers and promoting the integration of refugees into communities after they have been resettled into Europe. Amnesty International wanted to “give each other time to better understand and get to know each other” and to “touch on the general divisions between people”. To add to the symbolism of the video, it was filmed in Berlin, “the center of contemporary Europe” and a city itself that is a symbol of overcoming division. The intended scope of the project was Europe, although it was spread further through extensive social media and news outlets.

In the article accompanying the video release, Amnesty International also released statistics taken from their “Refugees Welcome Index”. According the amnesty website, the Refugees Welcome Index was based on a global survey of more than 27,000 people from 27 countries, carried out by a third-party company, GlobeScan. The results indicated that “government refugee policies [are] out of touch with public opinion” and that 80% of those surveyed said that they would let a refugee live in their country. The video was released one week after the results from the Refugees Welcome Index were released to the public.

Public Critique: The general response to this video was overwhelmingly positive. It was shared on many news outlets including Huffington Post, AJ+, Now This News, Global Citizen, and sites such as Upworthy and Vimeo. On Youtube, it got 753,251 views (555,553 in the first three months) and 3.3 million views on Facebook. Additionally, multiple sites reshared the video without linking it to Amnesty International so the Youtube views are much higher (i.e. Upworthy uploaded the video and received 50,000 views). It was called a “powerful” and “eye-opening social experiment” by Global Citizen and “heartwarming” by Huffington Post.

Personal Critique: I thought the general idea of the social experiment was a really creative way to invoke feelings of empathy and promote acceptance and integration between refugees and Europeans. I liked the way the video was filmed, showing the interactions of people of all ages and not putting any text at the beginning. I thought it conveyed the initial awkwardness and fear that can accompany meeting someone new or different but also the positive feelings and emotions that come with finding a friend or feeling welcomed into a new place.

If the objective of the experiment was to “touch on the general divisions of people” and “foster the spirit of empathy” I would say that was reached within the members who participated in the experiment (i.e. shown in video/others not shown as well) but to a much lesser degree in those who only watched the video. For me, even though I thought the experiment was very interesting, and I was motivated to participate in something similar, I still felt a disconnect. But I think that’s become the target audience of the video was Europeans, especially people in Germany.

I was skeptical of the statistics Amnesty International shared on the video release website. They said that 96% of Germans who took the survey would let refugees live in their country, and overall 80% of participants across 27 countries would let a refugee live in their country. Only 10% would let a refugee live in their own home though. I thought these values were staggeringly high given the amount of negativity, anti-refugee campaigns and “anti-migrant” governmental policies we’ve seen. Additionally, the gap between the 80% and 10% was interesting to me, as it seems like many of the participants were passively okay with refugees but when the individual impacted their lifestyle directly, they were less likely to be amenable to allowing a refugee to stay. Since the statistics were produced by Amnesty International and shared by Amnesty International, I think they should be taken with a very large grain of salt, but I think the overall goal of the video was not affected by these numbers.

Overall, because of the high number of views the video and experiment received, I think the video was successful in its goal of raising awareness in the short term. The video did decrease in views over time (over 500,000 views in the first three months and only 750,000 after 1.5 years) but that doesn’t seem to be a part of Amnesty International’s long term goals, since they are an organization that releases many short videos as mini awareness campaigns.



“Look Beyond Borders” Youtube link:

Amnesty International post:

Huffington Post:

Global Citizen:

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