Michal Boncza reviews Morning Star contributor Kate Evans’s new book on her experience with the relief convoys to the Calais refugee camp
AFTER the success of her graphic biography of Rosa Luxemburg, sometime Morning Star contributor Kate Evans joined the relief convoys to the Calais refugee camp and immersed herself in their plight.
In her new book Threads from the Refugee Crisis, her empathy with the predicament of people whose experiences she recounts makes for a charged narrative, imbued with a sense of common decency and human solidarity.
Evans uses the metaphor of strip lace — once a traditional Calais industry — as the link between the different strands of stories and they’re illustrated with impressive skill.
One centres round the picture of a refugee’s wife on his mobile phone. Noting her beauty, Evans suggests he ought to be lauding her praises every day. But the man hesitates. “When did you see her last?” she asks. “Six years ago,” is the pained answer.
In another, an Afghan child epitomises the fate of many. Enslaved in Turkey, nearly drowned in the Mediterranean and with his eyesight damaged by the French police’s tear gas, he gets himself into a lorry bound for Britain and saves his companions from suffocating by texting the Calais volunteers: “I ned halp…No oksijan in the car.”
In something of an upbeat moment in what is a harrowing narrative, a fluent English speaker unexpectedly arrives straight from Newcastle to pick up his refugee nephew.
Moving and eloquent, Evans bears witness to the daily struggle for survival in atrocious, unsanitary conditions against the indifference of French officialdom or intentional malice from the police. And she documents too the relentlessly unsuccessful refugees’ efforts to make it to Britain.
As they travel back to Britain, Evans articulates her own and her husband’s anguish in an image evocative of Edvard Munch’s The Scream and, seeing the official insensitivity towards the plight of immigrants in Calais mirrored across the Channel, she can no longer contain her rage.
Threads is a hugely moving tribute to human compassion and solidarity and it brings to mind images by the great German anti-fascist artist Kathe Kollwitz. And, like her work, it urges us to think and to act. A must-read.
Threads from the Refugee Crisis is published by Verso, price £ 14.99.