Olivier Kugler, an artist from Germany, spent much of 2016 in the refugee camps of Calais.
He was there to illustrate the men, women and children who had fled Syria in hope of a better life, only to find themselves in the uncertain hinterland that has since come to symbolise the refugee crisis.
It proved to be a difficult task. Kugler had trouble getting people to speak to him, let alone sit for a drawing, due to language barriers, trepidation and because many of the men slept during the day having spent all night attempting to reach Britain.
However, on one bright morning in April, Kugler met a Syrian refugee called Ammar Raad inside a makeshift shack in the camp.
“It was cold when we met. I know we were using the heater,” Raad recently recalled to the Guardian. Kugler went on to draw Raad, his striking green eyes standing out amidst the clutter of his improvised living space.
Following their meeting, Raad would eventually reach the UK by spending nine hours in a suitcase stored in the luggage hold of a bus.
Earlier this month, Raad and Kugler were reunited for the first time at the House of Illustration in King’s Cross. They were there to see the Journeys Drawn: Illustration from the Refugee Crisis, an exhibition featuring the works of a dozen artists, including three refugees, that reflect the conflicting moods of migrant experiences.
Raad’s journey is typical of so many Syrians affected by the ongoing conflict in the country. When war broke out, he was a student living in al-Qusayr, a city just outside Homs. “It has been empty since 2013,” Raad explained. “My father went there two days ago because the new mayor wants to rebuild the city and he wants to make a park. My father said there is nothing there now.”
With his home gone, Raad left Syria for Europe. After reaching Calais, he lived in the refugee camp where he tried to cross the Channel over 300 times. Following a visit to a friend in Paris, Raad spotted a coach bound for England. He made the decision to hide in the luggage hold, a move that worked, miraculously, on only the second attempt:
“The first time the bag broke. But the next time I stayed curled up for nine hours. I could breathe because I could open the case a little. Normally no one gets in like that because they have dogs checking every bag. I was just lucky. It was raining and it wasn’t a time when many trains were going through.”
After a stint in Cardiff and a period of sickness that he believes was related to prolonged tear gas exposure,
Raad reached London. Despite his refugee status, the 31-year-old is currently a student of international relations at London Metropolitan University. Raad’s story represents the power of human endeavour. With his life in danger, he risked it all to seek something that many of us take for granted: a home.
We’re grateful that Kugler was able to capture one of the hardest parts of his journey.
For more info about Journeys Drawn: Illustration from the Refugee Crisis head to the House of Illustration website.