A collection of thoughts about the refugee crisis, theatre and Valentine’s Day.
Yesterday it was announced that half of the Calais migrant and refugee camp, known as the ‘jungle’, was to be knocked down. Last week the French authorities started the process by bulldozing the church and mosque camp. Both sites of comfort and hope were made by hand by people with next to nothing. To be separated from someone you love by thousands of miles, violent police and unsympathetic governments and then to have a remaining source of comfort destroyed- well, it’s just not very nice, is it?
The police outside the camp have a coldness to them. You can completely believe all the stories about them- that when it gets dark they attack the innocent. Reports have been coming out of injuries to those in the camp, with one charity documenting fifty incidents in the last week alone. When you’re in a life-threatening situation to begin with, the last thing you need is being beaten up by those who are supposed to be protecting you.
If this is a day for celebrating people, then I feel like we should spend some time thinking about the ignored. While most of us will spend our day either complaining about or celebrating Valentine’s day, there are millions of displaced people just trying to stay warm, dry, alive. It makes that box of chocolates feel a little superfluous.
There’s this bit in Jane Eyre (the BOV version that transferred to the NT) that I can’t get out of my head. It’s where Rochester kneels by her side and puts his hands on hers, and she recognises him. Like, she just knows. She can’t see him but can tell from the knobbles of his knuckles and the warmth of his fingers that it’s him. I thought that was pretty great, something to look forward to. That comfort, that understanding, just from the holding of a familiar hand.
When I visited the camp in Calais, a lot of people didn’t want their photographs taken, understandably. If their picture was seen by authorities on French soil, they would have proof that they had been in France. That would mean they’d have to stay in France. I took a lot of pictures of hands.
I made this video while visiting the camp. The poem, ‘Home’, is by Warsan Shire.They couldn’t have been lovelier to us in the camp. Though they had nothing, they offered us tea, smiles and stories. The media present to us the idea of migrants and refugees ‘swarming’, like a flock of violent animals coming to claim what we have to offer. The only major change came with the photograph of Aylan Kurdi on the beach, when even the most vile papers couldn’t find something mean to say.
The loveliest article: Me and My Syrian Refugee Lodger
All this contrast between violence and tenderness makes me think about the way we choose to show force in theatre. A few years ago I saw Kiss and Cry at the Barbican. It was, and I think remains to be, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It was all about hands.
Last week I saw An Elephant in the Garden at BOV. Although it’s about the Second World War (and elephants and the circus and love and stuff), I came out unable to stop thinking about the refugee crisis today. An extract of the review:
This little girl, her mother and the elephant are all refugees, fleeing their home for fear of wars and violence. When Elizabeth and her gang are desperately hungry after a few days walking, it is hard not to think of those going with nothing for weeks in camps and boats and in the backs of vans across the world. We know the outcome of the Second World War. The end of the ongoing refugee crisis seems less certain. It might be a children’s show, but An Elephant in the Garden makes us see these refugees as individuals. It makes us sympathise, laugh and fall in love with them. Perhaps Reade’s adaptation of Morpurgo’s book is a sign that we should all be trying to do the same.
On a day when everyone is talking about home and love, strolling down the street holding hands and the comfort of it all- it somehow felt important. It’s just a horrible thought that all this- government decisions, civil wars, hostility and violence- means two people who love each other might not be able to hold hands again.