After years of war in parts of Africa and the Middle East — with its ensuing famine and economic collapse — a mass of people are on the move in search of safety and sanctuary. The EU policy of Fortress Europe is designed to keep them out. The result is a human catastrophe, as we witness years of harrowing images of migrants forced to make the desperate sea crossing to try and reach a place of safety.
Kate Evans’s graphic novel is a poignant and powerfully constructed telling of her experience volunteering. She was in the makeshift migrant camps of the “Jungle” in Calais and another in Dunkirk between autumn 2015 and spring 2016.
Evans left her own children with their grandmother, and travelled across the Channel to team up with others and do what they could to help. Evans caustically comments on the cynical labelling of this entirely humane reaction being the new middle class “must do” break and that their actions are but a sticking plaster on the problem.
The novel weaves together personal testimonies, political rhetoric, media reportage, tweets and aid agency statistics, underpinned by a common humanity of desperate peoples coming into contact with others trying to help; there is soul searching, frustration and hard lessons to be learnt.
This graphic novel is multi-layered. There is the introduction, the continuing framing of the images in lace (a historical reference to the work of the area), drawings, cartoons, portraits and a photo montage.
In contrast to the destructive inhumanity of government policies, the state police and immigration officials we see the inventive creativity of this mass of people finding themselves thrown together and building dwellings, a women’s centre, youth clubs and cafes.
The book also highlights the frustrations of a group of individuals, largely young men, fleeing the pressure of either being forced to fight or being killed.
We see the police enforcing arbitrary actions such as stopping dry blankets or bread being taken into the camps in contrast to the generosity of people wishing to share the little they have with the volunteers and the way this makes the camps inhabitants feel real to the brutal destruction of the precious little possessions they have. In one telling cartoon a man holds up a broken fragment of a mirror that he has been using to shave, to the faces of the riot police forcing them to look at their brutal barbarity.
This is a fine and extremely useful graphic novel that compels the reader to keep turning its pages. Of the many pointed cartoons, the one of the character Hoshyer caught in the light of his lamp as he climbs into his dwelling is particularly delightful. I yearned for a happy ending, but of course there isn’t one. There is only the grim reality of the ongoing crisis. However, it is a book of inspiration and hope, one that every school, community centre and library should have.