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This I can carry - Irish exhibit shows the meagre possessions refugees hold following a harrowing journey

Dutch-Irish artist Annabel Konig spent a month in the migrant accommodation centres in Athens in early May.

1 Source: Annabel Konig/This I Can Carry

TODAY IS WORLD Refugee Day, and around Ireland, for one day, a series of photographs will be exhibited to show just how little a refugee can take with them when embarking on their long journey.

Annabel Konig, a Dutch-Irish artist based in Co Carlow, spent a week in Athens in early May meeting with the refugees living there as they go through the complex Greek immigration process.

The conceit behind her self-funded project is simple – she photographed the possessions that those she met had carried with them from their point of origin on one simple white sheet.

Some had a small collection of essential items – eyeglasses being one, a mobile phone invariably being another.

3 A blank sheet details all one family of three has to show for their journey - nothing Source: Annabel Konig/This I Can Carry

For a migrant in 2017, a phone is everything – a connection to the world, a link to the places from which they have come, and the means to document where they have been and where they’re going. For one family, the phone they travelled with was the sole possession they had managed to hold onto.

One refugee travelled with literally just the shirt on his back.

Another family was asked to spread their possessions on the sheet that Konig used to document each traveller. The sheet remained blank.

“They were such a welcoming family. Then we put out the sheet,” she told TheJournal.ie.

That was a very quiet moment, as you might imagine.

4 A headband and a prayer book Source: Annabel Konig/This I Can Carry

Konig travelled to Athens rather than the port of entry for the travellers, like the isle of Lesbos, “because to travel to the camps is just too raw”.

“They wouldn’t want someone like me coming along after the journey they’ve been through,” she says.

For a migrant entering Athens, the stay will be a year-and-a-half long, minimum (“one boy didn’t even want to tell me how long he’d been there”).

Despite this, those she met “were the most wonderful, welcoming people”.

“There’s a sadness at what they’ve come from and what they’ve left behind. Many of them (the refugees present in Athens have come from many countries – Syria, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Algeria to name a few) have been travelling for 18 months just to get this far,” says Konig.

Many of them have ended up with nothing. They were very happy to participate, although I wouldn’t have been asking heavy questions.
The project was an effort to help these people move forward, which is all they want to do.
Many of them consider themselves lucky. They want to get on with their lives. Most are tired of waiting, either to move on or to be able to go home.

2 Source: Annabel Konig/This I Can Carry

5 One man arrived in Greece after travelling 4,100 miles with just the clothes on his back, quite literally Source: Annabel Konig/This I Can Carry

For Konig the main lesson from her visit is that “people are people, and kids are the same everywhere”.

They want to use the internet. Little boys everywhere dream of growing up to be football stars.

She spent one week at the accommodation centres, including time at a centre for unaccompanied minors, communicating through two separate translators, from English to Greek, and Greek to Arabic.

“All the time more and more people are arriving. And with many countries tightening their borders since June 2016, family reunifications are becoming so much more difficult.”

Along with the stoicism and warmth of the refugees themselves, the Greeks themselves will forever stick in her memory.

“I was humbled by the Greeks. They are astonishing. They have hardly anything either, yet they are giving all they have.”

Annabel’s exhibition will be shown tomorrow in the following places: Dublin – Gallery of Photography; Cork – Lewis Glucksman Gallery; Kilkenny – Butler Gallery; Carlow – Visual Centre for Contemporary Art; Annaghmakerrig – Tyrone Guthrie Centre; Derry – Void Contemporary Art Space; West Cork – Catherine Hammond Gallery; Limerick – Limerick City Gallery of Art; Belfast – The MAC 

You can read more about This I Can Carry here

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