We have come to Spitalfields. Descendants of Huguenot refugees who found respite in London fleeing death and discrimination in France. Thousands were murdered because they were protestants.
The area, as much as is preserved, draws us in and we could imagine ourselves living here as if we too were creative types, Gilbert and George, Jeanette Winterson and others who now have the wherewithal, or even refugees as our ancestors living several families to a room on Brick Lane.
Our family survived, made a life for themselves and subsequent generations. No one says it was easy but the onus was not on them to prove they were bone fide. They were not harried but able to follow their trade, enrich the pool of skills, languages, nations already struggling to survive.
It’s not only plastic in the oceans that will be the shame of our generation if we do nothing, but the wilful blindness to the plight of refugees.
Wooden Boat with Seven People, by Kalliopi Lemos (2011), a monument to the lives and deaths of refugees, sits in the busy marketplace in Spitalfields the area of London where refugees have often found shelter and welcome.
The little wooden boat was abandoned in Greece having carried real refugees from Turkey. Daylight shows between its timbers where water would insinuate and weaken its joints.
Life-size metal migrants now sit forever forlorn in the gunwales where once men, women and children cast themselves on the mercy of the rest of the world little suspecting that the world has forgotten the meaning of the word.
Did they really set out in an open boat to cross an ocean? How many people? What are their stories? Where are they now?
Interesting in this context to read Andrew Rawnsley’s interview with Madeleine Albright in the Observer today, herself a refugee who became America’s first female secretary of state.