Brian Bilston and José Sanabria
Here’s a book to make you think hard no matter what your feelings on the topic.
Two opposing viewpoints on migration and the refugee story are presented in Brian Bilston’s poem Refugees.
The first presents the reaction of separatist-minded individuals – all too many sadly – who think badly of refugees deeming them scroungers and wasters after an easy life in a new country: an attitude I fear in the fractured society of the UK at least, that has been fuelled by the current BREXIT thinking of those advocating our leaving the EU. ‘Go back to your own country’ is what people seeking asylum might be told having risked life and limb to find a safe haven.
Read the other way however,
the poem offers a warm welcome to displaced people needing asylum: understanding, compassion and kindness are the order of the day in this alternative viewpoint.
Now I am totally of the second view and have taught countless children from refugee and asylum seeking families from as far afield as Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Pakistan in schools around London gradually coming to know what traumas the families have undergone. More recently, I have befriended one Syrian family who have come to live in Stroud, the town where I currently spend much of the time.
However I am fortunate – one of the ‘haves’ with my own house, car etc. and have seldom been without anything I have wanted let alone needed, so really who am I to condemn those less fortunate – the ‘have-nots’ let’s say, who have little themselves and fear losing what little they have to others – the outsiders.
It is far less easy to understand the prejudice of the powerful and affluent who prey on those suspicions and fears to serve their own interests.
The dystopian world illustrator José Sanabria creates in his first six spreads where refugees arrive in an armada of hot air balloons and guardians of the ‘anywhere’ homeland are depicted as penguin-like police,
distance the dilemma from any particular reality, giving the reader space to ponder the topic transnationally. Those for the second part show open-armed residents welcoming the newcomers with offerings of food, drink, flowers, toys and more.
This poem has already been included in an anthology of poetry entitled From Syria with Love. Presented as it is now in this superbly illustrated book, Refugees offers a powerful and pertinent message for readers/listeners of all ages from KS1 upwards to adults, some of whom might one hopes, start to question their own attitudes.
No matter what, the book ought to be shared, discussed and pondered upon by all.