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Escaping Wars And Waves: Encounters With Syrian Refugees


Escaping Wars And Waves: Encounters With Syrian Refugees Escaping Wars And Waves: Encounters With Syrian Refugees Escaping Wars And Waves: Encounters With Syrian Refugees Escaping Wars And Waves: Encounters With Syrian Refugees Escaping Wars And Waves: Encounters With Syrian Refugees Escaping Wars And Waves: Encounters With Syrian Refugees

Escaping Wars And Waves: Encounters With Syrian Refugees back

Olivier Kugler

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Page 45 Review by Stephen and Jonathan

"Imagine you've got a family: a wife, three children... you come home and there is nobody there."

Two bombs were dropped on their house.

"They all died in the same room. The oldest one was five years old, the next one four... and the little one was three years old."

This is an album full of spectacularly beautiful, delicate line art: portraits of brave, stoical and astonishingly resourceful individuals who are facing nebulous futures after enduring unimaginable atrocities, so forcing them to flee for their very lives only to enjoy temporary living conditions which are challenging, to say the least.

It won the European Design Awards Jury Prize, 2018.

It's coloured with exceptional finesse, an unusual treatment which instinctively selects certain areas of skin and clothing (while leaving others unfilled) so that one's eyes are drawn to the humanity, warmth and individuality of those telling their stories in very brief bursts, while their current context - their surrounding environment, inside or out, and their few possessions - is largely left white or in lighter tones, with small but important details picked out for emphasis, like all the plastic flowers and vine leaves used to brighten a tent, shack or barber's shop.

Oh yes, I told you they were resourceful: so many of those who found themselves marooned in the Domiz refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, 2013, had begun to earn themselves a new if meagre living as barbers, carpenters, electrical appliance repairmen, sound system rental suppliers for weddings, births and birthdays or even, in Djwan's case, a breakdancing teacher. That's quite the career change from Syrian Army sniper.

It wasn't a career choice. In Syria, military service is mandatory, and Djwan was randomly selected to be a sniper, from which vantage point he was able to see his friends blown to smithereens or burn to death in a tank. One of Djwan's close friends and fellow soldiers who had suffered considerable family loss (outside of the army but very much within the warzone - Syria, basically) committed suicide by shooting himself with a rifle. The authorities decided Djwan had killed him, so he was tortured.

His saga of suffering is far longer than that, but like every individual whom Kugler met, he was fleeing the war. Plenty were fleeing conscription, many had their homes and livelihoods destroyed, others weren't sticking around long enough to see that happen within personal blast range. I'm pretty sure you'd flee too. I know I certainly would. It's worth reiterating:

"Imagine you've got a family: a wife, three children... you come home and there is nobody there."

So many of these stories are the same, whether told in Domiz, Kos (a Greek island where there's no refugee camp or governmental provision at all) or the "Jungle" in Calais where you really wouldn't want the sort of provision the local police like to provide.

"Because of the war there is not work in the area. Food, electricity and fuel are scarce and expensive."
"The economy broke down."
"This is what is left of the school where I used to give painting lessons. It got hit by an American warplane."

Some of them have climbed over corpses.

When Kugler.visited, refugee Ahin was lending her fully qualified services as a postgraduate psychologist to the Mental Health team in the Domiz camp. (You can imagine there's quite the demand if men in particular feel able to suffer the stigma of needing mental health counselling - and then think of the kids there!) She had to give up her masters is Damascus when the Free Syrian Army began bombing the neighbourhood indiscriminately.

"During my studies I worked in a centre for autistic children. I wanted to do practical treatment and help the children. It wasn't easy but I enjoyed it."

The centre's now being used as a military base.

Meanwhile, of course, dear old Islamic State is destroying all art it can find and even chopped down an orchard because obviously.

On fleeing, the parties had to negotiate numerous checkpoints in their own country before getting anywhere near another's borders. Those checkpoints could be manned by the Syrian Army, the Free Syrian Army or even Jihadist groups, which is quite the combination to please or appease. It's especially tricky if you're someone who could be shot for desertion or being an ex-enemy combatant.

This is all so thoroughly digestible because Kugler provides snippets of conversations, distilling them to the really important sentences, but never once separating them from the individual in question. There are no anonymous statements.

And, of course, you are surrounded by the physical beauty of the lines and colour on each page, however higgledy-piggledy, wet or freezing cold the actual environs were. Details you wouldn't necessarily think of are picked out, like the cinder blocks one bloke is standing on to keep his feet out of the mud. The island of Kos stands in marked contrast to Domiz, being comparatively warm, lush and green.

Originally, to save time, I was simply going to refer you to Kate Evans's equally excellent first-hand account of her time helping out in Calais which is THREADS, but I found myself so moved by what I learned here, and so impressed with its communicative skills, that I couldn't. Joe Sacco is a huge fan of this work, of course, because he's made a career out of giving a voice to those who have none, just like Kugler does here. They're like megaphones for the otherwise muted.

And while I'm making reference to other works, albeit with a completely different structure and style, may I commend Thi Bui's THE BEST WE COULD DO? Belle Yang's FORGET SORROW? Shaun Tan's THE ARRIVAL, obviously, but also his SKETCHES FROM A NAMELESS LAND which too contains snippets of conversation taken from those seeking refuge, as well as reflecting on THE ARRIVAL, itself.

I'm well past being sick of the demonization of those so desperately seeking sanctuary by the likes of Farage and the Daily Fail, and the betrayal by our own government under Theresa May of the Windrush Generation who were invited here because we do desperately needed them, and they came and they gave of themselves for decades in spite of such loathsome societal racism. Over and over, we are bludgeoned with lies about scrounging when immigrants contribute their skills then boost our economy by paying tax.

But not only are so many fleeing for their very lives - from wars often of the West's making in the case of Iraq, or exacerbating in the case of Syria - but in doing so they are sacrificing so much.

Almost always they are leaving family behind, but also their daily joys - the colour and culture in their lives - which we take for granted, obliterated by the outbreak of war: music, singing, art and books. Casual conversation in comfort! One elderly gentleman called Saadwin says "I miss village life... Hanging out with the other old men... We used to sit outside and talk all the time."

He's standing, shivering, in mud-strewn Iraqi Kurdistan, in spite of wearing seven jackets.

"I wouldn't trade living in my village for all the money in the world."

And yet, he has had to leave.

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