An open-air exhibition presents the depressing but inescapable truth that refugees have long existed, in a bid to improve their current reception
“Photography can be a powerful way of telling a story and these photos remind us that people have been fleeing conflict and persecution throughout history,” says Tom Davies, campaign manager at Amnesty International UK. “We’re trying to engage with the public – and ultimately decision-makers – to show that forced migration is not new, [and that] how we respond is up to us.”
He’s talking about the I Welcome show, a joint initiative between Amnesty International and Magnum Photos open on London’s South Bank from 07-18 December. Featuring work by nearly 20 Magnum photographers, including Moises Saman, Philip Jones Griffiths, Thomas Dworzak and David “Chim” Seymour, it presents the depressing but inescapable truth that refugees have long existed, and in doing so provides a wider context for the current, ongoing crisis.
“We felt that linking up with Magnum was a good way of showing that historical context,” explains Davies. “We were aware that it was Magnum’s 70th anniversary in 2017, and that they had an amazing back-catalogue of incredible photography, so we felt that in terms of that narrative [they would be ideal] – that idea that people have been forced to flee persecution and conflict for ever, that there are times when there have been positive responses and times when there have been negative responses.
“At this point in time, the response is not good enough to deal with the scale of the situation that refugees find themselves in globally.”
The exhibition is free, presented on public walkways along the South Bank which are visited by more than 30,000 people over the festive period. By choosing such a popular location, Amnesty hopes to maximise the number of people it reaches, and intervene in the increasingly unsympathetic response to refugees in the West.
“The David Seymour image from Greece in 1948, it’s an everyday image of child refugees, showing a sense of humanity,” says Davies. “Women make up 49% of the global refugee population and children are the clear innocent victims in this tragedy.
“But also Amnesty is calling on the UK government to allow child refugees in the UK to be reunited with their families. Currently, if you are recognised as a refugee in the UK and you’re under the age of 18, and your family members – your parents – are identified and located, you’re not allowed to apply to bring them to join you in the UK.
“As an adult, I could apply for my wife [or children] to join me in the UK but if I was a 14-year-old boy I would not be able to. Essentially, the government immigration rules permanently orphan children in the UK. So that picture resonates for me in that respect.”
In addition to the exhibition, a talk entitled Magnum Photos Now: Empathy & Photography is taking place at Frobisher Auditorium 2, at Barbican, London at 7pm on 08 December 2016. Magnum photographer Olivia Arthur, Save the Children director of creative content Jess Crombie, and teacher, photographer and regular BJP contributor Colin Pantall, will discuss why photographers feel compelled to document historical events and what – if any – legacy their images leave behind. Standard tickets cost £10 from www.barbican.org.uk