The Refugee Crisis through the eyes of Banksy

Catherine McNaughton - Regular Columnist


The anonymous artist known as “Banksy,” has once again put his artistic and poignant spin on current affairs. Amid reports of the use of tear gas in Refugee Camps in Calais, a new piece of graffiti has appeared opposite the French Embassy in London. The iconic “Les Miserables” image of Cosette presents an important social question; what are we going to about Syria? Consequently, it evokes a sense of the failings of Europe when faced with thousands of refugees.

Banksy has been a prominent critic of Europe’s handling of the Refugee Crisis. The powerful graffiti painting of a refugee child on a Calais beach and more publicly the recognition of Steve Jobs’ Syrian heritage has humanised this very real situation. In response to ineffective action, Banksy has put his (or her) paint brush in hand to condemn the treatment of refugees in Calais. The ever growing “Calais Jungle” is the purgatory between France and those attempting to seek refuge in the United Kingdom. Conditions are poor, third world even, and has now been deemed “unsafe”. Talking to the Guardian, police spokesperson Steve Barbet has denied the use of tear gas, despite multiple videos displayed on YouTube and social media. Banksy’s art also came with an interactive QR code that showed said videos of such atrocities. Is this what we expect to see in one of the most modern and powerful countries in Europe?

Earlier this week Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, paid a visit to the eponymous site. An important contrast against the UK government’s current position. David Cameron most recently described refugees derogatorily as a “bunch of migrants” and previously as a “swarm” in July 2015. Whilst Britain has declared its intention to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, it is yet another statistic focused statement that does not acknowledge an international issue. Besides, this only comprises for 6 refugees per constituency per year. Thankfully, Corbyn, like Banksy, highlighted the very human aspect of this chaos.


“We have got people here who have been here for months, if not longer than that, with no proper education, no access to doctors, no access to dentists, limited access to food – in very cold, very wet conditions … These conditions are a disgrace anywhere. We as human beings have to reach out to fellow human beings.”

We cannot begin to imagine how many people are subjected to this unbearable climate, but current estimates are at around 7,000. This situation is now much vaster than the Syrian Civil War, with many from rom Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan. What little sanctuary there was in Calais has ended as French authorities attempt to deforest the jungle.

Furthermore, Calais is not even the largest Refugee camp in Europe, for example, in Turkey there are about 1,838,848 refugees. Yet, dehumanisation is not only in conditions but in attitude. Danish authorities have voted to take away personal and valuable belongings of migrants in return for asylum. On the UK’s very shores, refugees have been welcomed with ignorance – in Middlesbrough, refugee’s doors were painted red and were targeted with abuse as a result. Whilst not reflective of universal opinion, it is abhorrent in a modern society.

Banksy art cannot change a global problem, yet it certainly can (and has) given it the publicity it so desperately needs. The Refugee Crisis may slip in and out of the media’s consciousness, but we must remember and endeavour not to let fear invade our compassion, understanding and hope for a peaceful resolution in the Middle East.

About Catherine McNaughton 6 Articles

Catherine McNaughton is currently a History undergraduate student at the University of York. She enjoys writing about global affairs and the under-represented views in politics. She is also interested in the history of America, particularly in terms of development of diversity. Follow Catherine on Twitter @__CatherineMac