Banksy's work highlights the plight of trapped refugees in northern France.



Banksy's New Mural Calls On Us To Remember The Refugees In Calais

At the start of the year, the Calais refugee camp, known as the “Jungle,” in northern France was violently raided by French police forces. Tear gas, water cannons, and batons were used as part of a coordinated two-day effort on January 5th and 6th to evict the refugees. In total, about 1,500 of these refugees were evicted, despite having been involved in a months-long struggle to stay in the camp until they could apply for asylum in Britain.

The Calais camp’s violent raid has become the focus of a new mural by Bansky that appeared over the weekend, as part of his ongoing series that attempts to raise awareness about the conditions at the Jungle. The new piece joins a months-long narrative that has unfolded through the elusive graffiti artist’s work. Pulling from the poster for Les Mis, the artwork depicted the iconic Cosette, with tears streaming down her face, presumably because of the CS tear canister at her feet, while a tattered French flag blows in the background. The focus on Les Mis calls attention to the French citizens who died from 1789 to 1799 to fight for liberty, fraternity, and equality in the French Revolution. Although the mural—located across the street from the French embassy in London—was quickly boarded up “in order to preserve it,” it was the first of Banksy’s pieces to feature a QR code that linked viewers to a video from the January 5th attack on the refugee camp.

As the struggle within the Jungle rages on, we look back on Banksy’s involvement with the camp, and clear up what’s happening inside of its concrete walls.

A mural by Banksy depicting "Les Miserables" character Cosette engulfed by clouds of gas.
A mural by Banksy depicting “Les Misérables” character Cosette, engulfed by clouds of gas.

What is the the Jungle?

Although the migrant camps have become the subject of newfound controversy because of the Syrian refugee crisis, the Calais camps have been around since 1999, when they were established under the name Sangatte. After widespread riots, the camps were officially shut down in 2001 and 2002, but have continued to attract asylum seekers and human traffickers. As the refugee crisis created an international panic last year, thousands of the refugees fleeing war zones in Syria and other countries took refuge in the camp, which eventually became known as the Jungle.

Relations between refugees and security forces have deteriorated over the past year, as police have tried to demolish the camp with bulldozers, and send refugees to a shelter specifically built to house them. The asylum seekers have been refusing to go to the new shelter because it requires fingerprinting, which would put them in the French system. Refugees have to stay in the country in which they’re fingerprinted, so moving to a new shelter would ruin their chances of obtaining asylum in Britain.

Calais refugees in 'The Jungle' Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Calais refugees in the Jungle.

Dismaland’s Relocation

The refugee camp first made headlines alongside Banksy’s work at the end of summer, when the artist announced plans to deconstruct their elaborately dystopian satire of Disneyland, moving it to the Calais refugee camp. After a five-week run, the artist made a statement on their website that read:

“Coming soon… Dismaland Calais. All the timber and fixtures from Dismaland are being sent to the ‘jungle’ refugee camp near Calais to build shelters. No online tickets will be available.”

This connection between the highly publicized theme park and the Calais refugee camp allowed for a new wave of international attention to be directed to the conditions within the settlement. Since its relocation, the spare parts have built twelve dwellings, a community area, and a children’s play park. Although this sounds hopeful, with the wave of destruction that’s taken place as bulldozers plow the land there’s no way of knowing if any of these structures still stand.

via cnn
Shelter over satire.

Steve Jobs, Telescopes, and Rafts

A few months after the Dismaland event, artwork appeared within Calais that brought a new wave of scrutiny to the handling of the city’s refugees. Banksy painted murals on the beach, at the town’s immigration office, and on the edge of the Jungle that highlighted three different aspects of the crisis. The one at the beach depicts a girl looking toward Britain with a telescope, while the one at the immigration office depicts survivors on a raft desperately trying to wave down a yacht on the horizon. While these were equally powerful in their message, it was the mural of Steve Jobs holding a knapsack and an old Mac computer that caused a huge backlash against the conditions in the camp, and triggered a long overdue conversation about the humanity of the refugee crisis.

The iconic Apple figurehead was the son of a Syrian refugee himself. His dad was from the Syrian city of Homs, but managed to emigrate to the US. In a rare statement about the piece, Banksy reminded those who had become hostile towards the immigrants that “Apple is the world’s most profitable company, it pays over 7 billion dollars (£4.6 billion) a year in taxes—and it only exists because they allowed in a young man from Homs.”

Banksy has been donating leftover materials from Dismaland to the Calais migrant camp Banksy - via
Banksy’s powerful mural depicting Steve Jobs.

What’s Next?

With the addition of the Les Mis mural, Banksy has become one of the most important voices in Calais. Violence has been erupting for months, as French police forces struggle to contain the thousands of migrants trying to leave the port and find asylum in Britain. Despite insistence that tear gas has only been used to keep migrants out of the nearby quarry, and that it had definitely not been used on families, the video linked to Banksy’s QR code tells a different story. With no end in sight to the influx of refugees, and the threat of bulldozing looming over the heads of those still encamped in the Jungle, we can only hope that a peaceful and humane approach to the situation will be met before Banksy has to remind us all over again.

Stay tuned to Milk for more coverage of the refugee crisis. 

Images via Banksy, Jeff J Mitchell, CNN, and The Independent. Main image by Kathryn Chadason.

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