Threads: From the Refugee Crisis is as powerful a piece of graphic non-fiction as it is a celebration of humanity. The reader follows the artist, pink-haired Kate Evans, as she visits a refugee camp in (the “jungle”) in Calais, France several times over a year.
The refugees are in a socially and politically precarious position: many are desperate to escape to the United Kingdom, where they perceive they will be better off. If they are documented in France, however, it puts their status in the UK at risk, so most refugees are hovering under the radar, reluctant to seek medical treatment for fear of being found out. It’s even hard for UK residents to pick up family members who are in the Calais camp. Options for refugees are grim and mostly rely on accepting offers from human traffickers or waiting for change.
Evans works in mixed media, bringing in elements of collage, poetry, and sketch, opening up new life and new possibilities for graphic novels as a genre. Among the intentional and slight touches are the use of lace for borders between panels, the clever typed strip cut-and-paste style of the narration, and the stark difference between the monotone grays of the background and the vividly colored pencil sketches of the refugees and their belongings. All of these elements weave (ha, get it?) together to create a visual balance and depth to this work. In addition, they add significant emotional weight: the vivid colors of the refugees against the monotone backgrounds demonstrate the warmth of the human spirit, the cut-and-paste strips give Kate the freedom to place words wherever she wants on a page, and the lace borders remind readers of the ‘threads’ that connect humans to each other. The lace also symbolizes “the meticulous toil of women and girls” that made Calais famous for its lace manufacturing.
Throughout this story, Evans cycles the reader through moments of warmth, generosity, and the humor of the human spirit and moments of depravity and viciousness in the form of arbitrary police decisions and “screenshots” from her phone that show anonymous anti-refugee comments that might have appeared in the comments section of a magazine. She gently suggests that these sources of evil come from dehumanization and distancing: it’s easy for the armchair observer to make statements from afar and for the police to enforce rules they didn’t create. Politicians like Theresa May and Marine Le Pen make brief appearances in this book as well. Both women legitimize fears and concerns about refugees.
That said, Evans shows that the refugees can be aggressors, too. She describes some of the situations and conflicts that refugees can create among themselves, especially if there are miscommunications in the camp or shortages of supplies. Refugees don’t particularly feel safe among each other, especially if the doors to their homes don’t have locks. Twice Evans is able to disarm and distract refugees from unfairly hoarding supplies by showing them cell phone games. She also offers to draw the portraits of men who intimidated her, which de-escalates any threats she may feel for her personal safety.
Some of the more violent and upsetting content in this book makes me hesitant to give it to middle schoolers, especially since valuable age-appropriate resources about the refugee crisis already exist for this age group. This would be a lovely book to include in high school and college collections about refugees and would serve as a read-a-like to a book like Refugee by Alan Gratz.
The one thing I would have liked to have seen is a list of resources and organizations readers can look up to learn more about how to assist refugees in the short term and how to advocate for solutions in the long term.
Threads: From the Refugee Crisis
by Kate Evans