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Threads: From The Refugee Crisis h/c back

Kate Evans

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Page 45 Review by Stephen

"You ever wonder if you're doing the right thing. Our relief effort - it's just a band-aid, isn't it?"
"Only in that it would hurt a lot of people if you suddenly removed it."

There is a wealth of similarly bright wit and wry humour throughout, along with the exchanging of beaming smiles and food and felt-tip pens. You'll meet people at their very best, because they can be! You'll just have to wait for me to get there.

By far the finest, most thorough and affecting documentary I've seen or read on the refugee crisis in any medium, its clear, concise, cause-and-effect analysis is irrefutable except by those with lies on their tongue and hatred in their heart. Contempt for others is never an attractive quality.

Kate Evans concentrates on her personal, hands-on experience of helping out in the camps at Calais and Dunkirk in January and February 2016 - on the volunteers' construction and distribution, on a great many asylum seekers she meets trapped there (often children without parents or other family), and on the French authorities' atrocities, particularly on March 1st 2016 when the police moved in en masse for what can only be described as a black-booted massacre.

We will return to those first-hand accounts of these courageous individuals - and they are all very much individuals and ever so bloody courageous - because that's what this book is about.

However, on the rare occasions that we are pulled back into an objective consideration of said cause and effects, our key witness proves as pithy as she is passionate but nevertheless spot-on. Here Evans borrows what she emphasises is the dubious metaphor of the proverbial flood, along with that which plugs in the sink while the water continues to gush and the consequently spills over.

"What turned on the tap?
"The bombs and the guns: the ones that we drop and we sell and we profit from. The marauding psychotic death cults of Daesh (ISIS) and the Taliban, which rose from the ashes of countries we invaded."

"We": we who are not willing to mitigate, by providing succour or sanctuary, what we have started.

"Just imagine that you have a young child - half the world's refugees are children. Imagine your country is at war, that your government is dropping bombs on your city, that the terror troops are a day away from your town. What kind of a parent would you be if you stayed?"

This is precisely what our Jonathan has written repeatedly in his reviews, for he has a child. Perhaps you have a child too?

Earlier Evans meets an old man too afraid to seek medical help in Calais for the most hideous, exposed wounds to his stomach "taped up with an old plastic bag" because they will photograph him and use that as evidence to "prove that he entered Europe through another country" which would immediately disqualify him from asylum in the UK. Immediately afterwards she reports:

"In the early hours of the following morning, US forces bomb the Médicins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The main hospital building is struck precisely and repeatedly for more than an hour despite its co-ordinates being known to the US military command. As a consequence of the bombing, MSF pulls out of the region, leaving the whole of north-east Afghanistan without life-saving medical care."

From the afterword and then, I promise, we will return to what is really at stake - the real-life plight of individual human beings trapped between a bomb and an implacable, intransigent and culpably unyielding hard place - this is the simple, economic truth of it all:

"Austerity doesn't prevent our government from directly subsidising the British arms industry. We are the second-largest exporter of weapons in the world.
"The bombing raids we conduct over Iraq and Syria cost an estimated £1million each."

They cost an estimated £1million each. Also: not just paying for British arms but "subsidising" its industry. I never wanted to hear another word spoken against farmers again.

Imagine this: we stop bombing at £1million a pop (so causing this carnage) and funnel that money, immediately freed, to help to alleviate the suffering of millions of meet-you-and-look-you-in-the-eye lives by inviting them in to our exceptionally wealthy country. Next...? Once we stop causing this mass displacement through extortionately expensive bombing and so have even more money to spare, we take ourselves out on a global fucking picnic which we can then afford.

This is no picnic.

Sometimes there's even no bread.

On 18th February 2016 the French police, on a whim, decide to stop bread being brought into the already destitute camp at Dunkirk.

From 15th February 2016 they decided to deny refugees dry blankets. Blankets bought and brought by English, French and other international donors in order to help keep families - children and even pregnant women - warm whilst living in rain-soaked, wind-swept, drain-less winter squalor. There is a single photograph taken outside the tent of a pregnant woman, artfully integrated into the sequential artwork, which will arrest you.

But oh that is nothing compared to the overnight beatings by those bearing blue uniforms with their badges removed, police tear-gassing children in their beds overnight (some threat to security, that), and I've a note about pages 127 to 132 that simply says in capital letters "JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!"

And that wasn't the cameo by Theresa May as former British Home Secretary, deployed in exactly the same place on the page as a previous appearance by Marine Le Pen, in precisely the same pose and gurning with the same ferocious inhumanity.

Instead, it involves a heavily pregnant woman and her equally vulnerable children whom we'd already met being violated by armoured police who hide their faces behind helmets as they do so.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I am in awe of Evans for all that she accomplishes here: for her kindness and caring in returning repeatedly to the front line (a telling phrase if ever I typed one), and for spreading the word in bringing this all home with such judicious, creative skill as to make it in so many ways more meaningful, intimate and affecting than a filmed, one-hour documentary one may watch late at night. Those are vital: I do not in any way mean to belittle any one of those many exceptional broadcasts which I've absorbed and pondered over for hours.

But this is more permanent, more personal and personable, delivered with immediacy, colour and comedy.

"Gaffer tape!"
"There's nothing in the world that can't be fixed with gaffer tape."
"If you think it can't be fixed with gaffer tape..."
"...You're not using enough gaffer tape!"

Hooray for gaffer tape!

"We're about to attempt to fix an international humanitarian catastrophe with sticky tape.
"Wish us luck."

The cartooning is bright, unaffected and wherever possible bursting with the same energy which Evans, her friends and her husband pour into building accommodation then moving accommodation when the French authorities threaten to bulldoze it down.

"Today we are moving house. Literally, moving the whole house..."

Joyfully they sort donations, buy fresh goods, and hand them out while talking to as many people as possible. Occasionally Kate sits down to paint some portraits of young sitters for them to keep in plastic sleeves, and they are so very tender, rendered in soft, gentle washes rather than coloured with crayons. She brings out the individuality in each, the real nature underneath any high-spirited, boisterous buffoonery.

Speaking of soft, there's a lot of lace used throughout the book. Calais was famous for its lace-making before it became famous for its fence-building, and it's used here as the gutters between panels.

As to the conversations - again for immediacy - they're hand-written in lower case, free from traditional comicbook speech balloons which would have jarred with the art and put the reader at a remove from the life and lives depicted here. That she avoids that potential pitfall is absolutely critical. This is far more natural.

Equally well judged is the way in which the commentary is delivered as if from a typewriter, bashed out onto complementary-coloured paper then cut into strips with scissors before being pasted onto the art. Brilliantly, there are breaks between its fragments so as to keep it as one with what it's reporting. It's ever so lo-tech, reflecting their basic surroundings.

One of my favourite encounters is with Hoshyar who invites Evans & co. into his eight-foot hut which he shares with Alaz.

"It's well insulated. It would be warm(ish) except we have to leave the door open to let in some light."

The things we don't even think of...

""I'll make you lunch." It's not a question."

Hoshyar had been in the Jungle for 120 nights at that point, and you can see that it's taken its toll. It hangs in his haunted, faraway eyes and hunched shoulders, but still...

"Hoshyar busies himself in his eighteen-inch kitchen, knocking two eggs together and tipping them into a pan.
"The sadness temporarily ebbs from his face in the process.
"Welcoming, cooking, sharing.
"You can tell this fits with his sense of how things should be in the world."

One of the brightest nights is spent with little Evser, laughing and giggling as she and Kate play catch with a football for over an hour. Once more they have been treated to dinner by those with virtually nothing of their own. Months later, and Evser and her mother have been moved to Dunkirk and downgraded from shacks to mere tents in the mud.

"We give her mother some oranges.
"There is an awkward moment.
"Her mother would dearly love to invite us in and offer us tea, but she lives in a mouldy pit, a hole - it doesn't even qualify as a hovel.
"I fish about in my bag, find some lemons and press them into her hand.
"Evser doesn't remember me.
"There are no footballs.
"She's not laughing anymore."

That wouldn't be a fair place to leave you, would it? It's hardly a fair place to leave Evser, either.

But what I'm trying to impress upon you is that it's not all doom and gloom. Calais at its best, thanks to the volunteers, became a community with a school created by Zimarko after he gave up trying to get to the UK himself. It came with quite the elaborate playground. Sue contributed an art workshop housed in a miniature version of the Eden Project: "grown men, hunched over, colouring with felt-tip pens". Everyone needs sustenance, especially for the soul.

But I'm afraid it's also the venue where the volunteers trip up and make a mistake: nothing to do with Sue, just a well meaning miscalculation on handing out youngsters' clothes. That episode is genuinely frightening.

There are also small, shanty-town cafes declaring themselves with good humour to be 3-Star Hotels and the food there is absolute heaven.

But there's a brutally bleak double-page spread contrasting all his with what the French authorities had in mind for the Jungle's future.

"125 shipping containers [not for shipping: for accommodation]. Ring-fenced. Spotlit. Biometric entry control. No cooking facilities. No privacy. No autonomy.
"A man stands, brushing his teeth by the wire.
"He gestures back at the 3 Star Hotel, the legal centre, the aid distribution points, the caravans, the brightly painted playground - a monument to human ingenuity and charity, however desolate and desperate it may be.
""All this... will go."

Please don't believe that I am singling out the French government for criticism: it is Britain which controls and has closed the other side of the border.

"Passengers can expect delays of up to two hours on Channel Tunnel crossings this morning after the reported death of a migrant at the Calais Terminal.
"The impact of the train was such that it is not possible to tell the age, sex or nationality of the victim."

I do apologise for the inconvenience.

Also recommended: Thi Bui's THE BEST WE COULD DO and Sarah Glidden's ROLLING BLACKOUTS.
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