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Literature

Ai Weiwei’s Book Presents Striking Portrait of the Global Refugee Crisis

October 10, 2020

As the global refugee crisis continues, the stories of individuals often get lost in the overwhelming numbers of people who are trying to escape from devastating circumstances in their home countries in search of a better life.  

Human Flow: Stories from the Global Refugee Crisis by Ai Weiwei, edited by Boris Cheshirkov, Ryan Heath and Chin-chin Yap, presents a striking portrait of the greatest humanitarian emergency of our time, from the director of the documentary film Human Flow. 

In the course of making Human Flow, his epic feature documentary about the global refugee crisis, the artist Ai Weiwei and his collaborators interviewed more than 600 refugees, aid workers, politicians, activists, doctors, and local authorities in twenty-three countries around the world. A handful of those interviews were included in the film. The book presents one hundred of these conversations in their entirety, providing compelling first-person stories of the lives of those affected by the crisis and those on the front lines of working to address its immense challenges.

Speaking in their own words, refugees give voice to their experiences of migrating across borders, living in refugee camps, and struggling to rebuild their lives in unfamiliar and uncertain surroundings. They talk about the dire circumstances that drove them to migrate, whether war, famine, or persecution; and their hopes and fears for the future. A wide range of related voices provides context for the historical evolution of this crisis, the challenges for regions and states, and the options for moving forward.

Complete with photographs taken by Ai Weiwei while filming Human Flow, this book provides a powerful, personal, and moving account of the most urgent humanitarian crisis of our time.

Among those included in the book were Ioannis Mouzalas, former Greek Minister for Migration Policy who was interviewed on Lesvos, Greece on February 13, 2016, Boris Cheshirkov of the UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency, also interviewed on Lesvos in January and February of 2016, and Atiq Atiqullah, a refugee in the Moria Camp on Lesvos, who was interviewed on December 26, 2015. Atiqulla spoke about being saved by the Greek authorities while the Turks harassed them and said they would kill them and did not want them to live in their country.

Also interviewed for the book were Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos, Giorgia Linardi of Sea-Watch, photographer Aris Messinis, funeral director in Lesvos Mustafa Dawa, and Nikos Golias of the Hellenic Coast Guard.

Ai Weiwei is one of the world’s most prominent artists and political activists. His books include Weiwei-isms and Humanity, both published by Princeton University Press. His works have been exhibited at Tate Modern, the Guggenheim, and the Museum of Modern Art. He lives in Berlin. Twitter: @aiww.

Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said of the book, “Today, there are nearly 80 million people displaced by war and persecution. They are alternately forgotten and demonized. In sharing their words, Ai Weiwei reminds us that while they are refugees, they are first and foremost men, women, and children with the same dreams and aspirations as the rest of us, equally deserving of the peace, protection, and opportunity we seek for ourselves and our own families.” 

Human Flow by Ai Weiwei, published by Princeton University Press, is available online.

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