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Artists bid to wake Europe's conscience to migrant cause

AFP , Friday 6 Nov 2015
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It was as news came through that another 11 children had drowned trying to reach Greece that Benedict Cumberbatch finally cracked.

"Fuck the politicians," the usually painfully polite upper-class actor told a theatre audience in London last week after playing Hamlet, before making a despairing plea on behalf of thousands of refugees arriving daily on Europe's beaches.

The "Sherlock" star has been making impassioned speeches in support of migrants from the stage of the Barbican since August, raising £150,000 (212,000 euros, $230,000) for Save the Children from nightly collections.

All across Europe, artists are similarly rallying to the migrant cause, determined not to let anger at governments squabbling over the crisis drift into indifference or hostility towards refugees fleeing war and misery.

An Austrian artist topped the iTunes music charts with a minute of silence to symbolise deafness to their plight, "performing" it later in front of 150,000 people at an open-air Vienna concert, while a theatre backed by some of Britain's leading directors has opened in the Calais "jungle" to lift the spirits of those stuck in the squalid camp on France's north coast.

Austria's Nobel prize-winning writer Elfriede Jelinek has even updated her 2013 play "The Wards" to castigate the "smugness and cynicism" of Europe's response to suffering on its doorstep.

 

 

But with the crisis falling off the front pages, Cumberbatch felt they were raging against a tide of apathy as he told the audience how 5,000 migrants a day were arriving on Lesbos, in a video of the speech posted on social media.

"No one puts children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land," he said, quoting from a poem called "Home" by the Somali poet Warsan Shire.

Twenty more babies and children have drowned in the Aegean since Cumberbatch lost his temper last week, according to an AFP count, bringing their number to an estimated 110 since the pictures of Syrian toddler Aylan washed up on a Turkish beach first pricked the world's conscience in September.

The Oscar-nominated British actress Samantha Morton this week offered to put up refugees on land she owns, while James Bond star Daniel Craig told AFP: "There is a human tragedy going on. It is up to European governments to step forward and get this sorted."

Morton said history will not be kind to governments like Britain's which has offered to take only 20,000 refugees over five years -- a gesture "Harry Potter" author JK Rowling slammed as "utterly shameful" with the UN expecting up to 1.35 million refugees and migrants to have entered Europe by February.

"People will look back and they will judge," said Morton as film-makers led by Michel Hazanavicius, director of the Oscar-winning "The Artist" lobbied Brussels to act decisively, warning of growing xenophobia stirred by the EU's inability to tackle the problem.

"Europe seems to want to do crisis management, we want a Europe that shouts its values loud and clear," he said as he presented a petition signed by some of cinema's biggest names to officials last month.

"The only way Europe can hope to block the dangerous progress of populism and demagogy is by remaining both political and human," he added.

But it is not just the EU that is failing -- the Arab world must also shoulder the burden, conductor Daniel Barenboim insisted this week.

"Europe alone can't deal with Syrian refugees... The Arab world should also take them," he told reporters.

Not all artists however have rallied to the migrant banner. Graffiti artist Dan Park last month caused outrage in Sweden -- which after Germany has taken the largest number of migrants -- with posters declaring, "Terrorist Welcome, bring your own weapons."

And Swedish pop singer Christer Sandelin also questioned its open-door approach in a post on Facebook: "Is there anyone who believes we can help 2,000 refugees who enter our country daily (but not Norway, Denmark, nor Finland). What is going on???"

However, singer Carola, who won the Eurovision song contest for the Nordic country in 1991, claims they do not represent the Swedes and has been putting migrants up in her own home.

Fellow Eurovision winner, bearded Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst -- a former choirboy -- has supported the Pope's call for Catholic parishes to take in refugees and also appears with Peter Gabriel in a video for a new song called "Do Something" by British singer Charlie Winston.

The video, supported by the Red Cross, was shot in refugee camps across Europe including Calais' "jungle", and warns, "There is only so long this can keep going on..."

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