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Terror victims call for global solidarity in Belgian TV documentary ‘Back On Track’
Terror attack survivors from Belgium and the Netherlands call for international solidarity in a documentary to be screened on Flemish TV channel VTM on Sunday evening.
Entitled ‘Back On Track’, the 32-minute film in English features the testimonies of four victims of the terror attacks in Paris in 2015 , Brussels in 2016 and New York in 2017 as part of the campaign togetherstronger.eu.
It aims to raise awareness of the ongoing plight of people suffering physical and psychological trauma following acts of terrorism and raise funds to provide them with financial support.
“As it’s the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we had to seize the opportunity and communicate the message that it’s still possible to have hope, but please world, hear how hard it can be,” says Antwerp businessman Aristide Melissas, who appears in the documentary alongside his wife Marion Van Reeth (pictured together, main image).
The pair know only too well how difficult it is to rebuild lives after the devastation of being caught up in in an act of terrorism. On a city trip to New York in the autumn of 2017, they were cycling with their son and nephew on a crowded bike path along the Hudson River when an IS terrorist in a pick-up truck deliberately rammed into them. Marion lost both her legs and Aristide suffered a head trauma in the attack that left eight people dead (picture above of scene 12 seconds before the attack).
“As we approach the anniversary on 31 October, we live through it again, and that’s common for all of us. We can’t go back in time, but if we can open up our hearts and support each other, we can make it really lighter,” says Melissas, who adds: “Finding a rope to crawl out of the pit after an attack is so terribly difficult."
Joining them in the ‘Back On Track’ film is Karen Northshield (pictured above), the Belgian-American former fitness coach, who was hospitalised for more than three years after being blown up by a bomb at Brussels Airport in 2016. The same coordinated attack caused the death of mother-of-three Loubna Lafquiri at Maelbeek metro station. Her husband, Belgian-Moroccan Mohamed El Bachiri, adds his testimony as a muslim and his manifesto for peace ‘A Jihad for Love’. The fourth contribution from Ferry Zandvliet outlines his experience of surviving Bataclan during the November 2015 Paris Attacks, and how he overcame the subsequent trauma. The Dutchman is now a public speaker and author.
As well as reminding viewers about the continuing high incidence of terrorism attacks around the world, more than 130,000 since 9/11, says Melissas, the film calls for international solidarity as part of the togetherstronger.eu campaign and V-Europe, a Belgian nonprofit association for terror victims. Melissas is a board member and one of a team raising the profile of both organisations for the people and causes they represent.
The current fundraising initiative was launched by V-Europe in July 2021, when 11 survivors of worldwide attacks (pictured above) cycled up the mythical Mont Ventoux in France, under the leitmotiv ‘togetherstronger’.
He explains the reason for what feels like a mission: “When the attack hits you, you suffer severe financial losses and you suffer physically and psychologically. You lose your income and unfortunately some victims, years after, are still struggling today on benefits.”
The former international hockey player “suffered the darkest year of my life” after the attack on his family. “We were lucky to be financially stable and living in a nice house, but it had lots of stairs, so we had to move and adapt a new home. When it came to the administrative work, it was like a second attack.”
Melissas recovered with the help of psychological assistance, but deplores the fact that not everyone is so fortunate. Through campaigning work, V-Europe meets victims of terror from around the world, “soulmates”, he calls them. “Some countries are more organised than others, but there’s still so much progress to be done.”
He hopes that people will be inspired to give by seeing the documentary and the reminder that “terror can affect us all, at anytime, anywhere." The money raised – managed by the King Baudouin Foundation - provides valuable support, “such as seminars to encourage people to gain more confidence in order to facilitate their own ‘Back On Track’ into society.”
“Even if it’s one euro, if thousands do the same, we will together be stronger. That’s why we have a heart as our symbol. The hearts from where we all come from, forming a human chain of solidarity,” says Melissas.