Exilis d’ahir, exilis d’avui
Tue, 17/12/2019 - 19:18
Awareness. The play ‘Rastres-Argelers’ and a monologue by Syria refugee Ahmad Alhamso show us the parallels between refuge eighty years ago and refuge today.
Argelers, today: few traces remain of the history of the refugees who spent months or years at the improvised camp on the beach, few traces of the republican exile from the reprisals by the victor in the Spanish Civil War. Greece, today: people continue to arrive from Syria in search of refuge and the harsh conditions of the camps go on.
As part of the Barcelona Districte Cultural municipal programme, the Centre Cívic Vil·la Urània offered the play Rastres-Argelers, about the final chapter of the Spanish Civil War which saw 465,000 people live for months in a makeshift camp on the beach at Argeles, in the south of France. During the second part of the session, the actor Ahmad Alhamso, a Syrian refugee, performed a monologue he wrote about his experience in the Nea Kavala refugee camp in Greece, where he spent two years before coming to Spain.
The wait and the abandonment
The play establishes parallels between the material and emotional situation of the two experiences, despite their being eighty years apart. The cold, the fear and the hunger, but more than anything, the desperation, the wait, the uncertainty of not knowing when they’d be able to leave, to start a new life and be reunited with their family. The characters in the play, Maria and Lola, as well as Ahmad, talk of the nostalgia of their former lives, of the sadness of the wait in the camp and their dreams of a decent future. The two women, exposed to the elements on the cold sand of a beach in Argelers; him, in a basic tent, in a small Greek village.
“I felt the need to give a voice to those who had been robbed of theirs”
Memory of the republican exile
Aina Huguet, actress and director of Rastres-Argelers, explains that she was reading Xavier Benguerel’s book Els vençuts precisely in the area of Northern Catalonia near Argelers when she decided to create a play to recover the memory of the thousands of Spanish refugees, mostly Catalans, who suffered the sub-human conditions on that beach. A beach with no memories, no testaments. “I felt the need to give a voice to those who had been robbed of theirs”.
The beach is the main setting for the play, which uses the accounts of the two protagonists to tell us about the hunger, lack of hygiene, cold, rapes and aggressions by the French army that many people had to endure for nearly two years.
Huguet basically created the play from written documents, first-hand accounts from people who were at the beach and input from children and grandchildren who were familiar with what their ascendants went through. The drama is provided by two women, Maria and Lola, performed by Aina Huguet herself and by Bàrbara Roig. The two symbolise the difference of origins, diversity among exiles and solidarity, as well as the bonds generated in the field, without which it would have been even harder to survive. Huguet covers the uprisings of dignity, for example on 14 April when the exiles brought out republican flags and bore the blows and aggressions of their jailers until the end, or when they refused to pick up bread thrown at them from a distance as if they were animals.
Eighty years on and little has changed
The image of bread tossed through the air was also something Ahmad experienced in the camp near Nea Kavala on various occasions: Greek soldiers amused themselves by throwing food to them to see how they fought between them for it.
Another parallel which shows there has been no progress in the perception of refuge as a humanitarian responsibility is how the media and political powers eighty years ago and today criminalise exiles. This criminalisation and the policy of fear of the other is a perfect combination for maintaining the population under control.
Theatre as a tool for awareness
Both the play and the monologue are described by their authors as having the same goal: to explain the reality of exile so that it is not forgotten and so that it doesn’t happen again. Knowing what others have been through, as Ahmad explains, so that we’re aware that it can happen to any of us, regardless of whether we’re Spanish, Syrian, French or Greek: “One day I’m the refugee, and another day you are”.
This meeting in time forms part of the professional circuit Barcelona Districte Cultural, an initiative to get quality culture into the neighbourhoods which is now in its sixth edition. The cycle sees community centres and other municipal venues in the city offer cultural shows, workshops, talks and other activities for local people to actively engage with culture.