‘When there is nowhere to go, nowhere is home’ – Human Flow
In the forecourt of London Liverpool Street Station stands a sculpture. Bronze against the grey London light, the five children of Kindertransport are witness to the anonymous mass of commuters who rush past them each morning on their journey to work. But though this statue is witness to innumerable journeys, what it commemorates is these children’s own: it is a memorial to the refugee orphans who escaped persecution during the Holocaust.
Seven decades later, there are more refugees worldwide than at any time since the Second World War. Yet in Ai Weiwei’s newly-released documentary film Human Flow – shot across 23 countries and in 40 different refugee camps – we see that this time, there are no trains waiting to escort escapees to safety, as there were for the Kindertransport children. Instead, refugees are camping on the railway tracks themselves, wading through rapids with their belongings, and catching scurvy on smugglers’ boats. It is a reality that is difficult to align with the 21st Century. But just like the commuters at Liverpool Street, it would seem that to many, it is these individuals who are simply an anonymous mass – victims of not only what they are fleeing, but also an epidemic of compassion fatigue that has seen the world become immune to human suffering.
Weiwei’s urgent depiction of this humanitarian crisis is a means to resist this. Images of refugees are not new to us. Almost every day we are presented with news reports of boats laden with people in orange lifejackets on the southern shores of Europe; but with 65 million individuals having been forcibly displaced worldwide – the same number as the entire UK population – the crisis is certainly not getting any better. Human Flow is a call to action, a shocking yet respectful depiction of an existence lived by too many – and there are many ways we all can help.
Help Refugees has recently opened the world’s first shop where you can buy items such as nappies, tents and lifejackets for refugees, called Choose Love in Soho. The charity will then provide these gifts to refugees, and though you leave the shop with nothing, the charity provides a gift card – making such a purchase an ideal Christmas present for your charitably-minded friends and family. With items ranging from £3 to £320, and the ability to buy online, there is something for everyone; and a more regular donation of just £5 can provide a week’s worth of fresh fruit and vegetables for a child refugee in Greece.
However, supporting refugees goes much further than money. If you want to do more, charities such as Citizens UK and Safe Passage UK are a means through which you can lobby your local council and the government to resettle more refugees. And many organisations are always looking for volunteers: you can travel to Calais or Greece, or stay closer to home and work for an organisation such as Doctors of the World UK, which holds clinics in London and Brighton run by volunteers with and without medical experience.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall – a symbol of the divisions that sliced through Europe in the 20th Century – four times as many border walls exist than did in 1989. Yet with the world bearing witness to the countless journeys of refugees, it is high time that we uproot our collective passivity and do as much as we can to support those who have nowhere to go. There is no place like home – but for those who have no choice but to leave theirs, the least we can do is help them; just like we did for the Kindertransport children.
How are you going to help refugees this year? Please let us know by tweeting us at @OfficialCause4.
Photos are author’s own.