‘Inflatable refugee’ visits Copenhagen on a mission

A project meant to symbolize the journey refugees go through to reach Europe will arrive in the Danish capital on Monday.

'Inflatable refugee' visits Copenhagen on a mission
The 'Inflatable Refugee' is scheduled to arrive in Copenhagen on Monday afternoon. Photo: Schellekens & Peleman

If you see a massive human sitting on a boat in the Copenhagen harbour on Monday, you’re not imagining things. Not have giants overtaken the Danish capital.

The strange site is instead the latest work from Belgian visual artists Schellekens & Peleman.

Entitled “Inflatable Refugee”, the 6-metre high blow-up is a “symbol of the dehumanization of the refugee and the current refugee crisis happening in the world” according to a press release.

The floating political statement will sail from Helsingør to Copenhagen aboard the Hawila, a 25.5m long refurbished wooden galeas that was built in Norway in 1935.

It is scheduled to arrive in the capital around 3pm on Monday.

In a statement provided to the artists, Copenhagen Mayor Frank Jensen said he welcomed the arrival of the 'Inflatable Refugee'.

“The current migration crisis in Europe is one of the most difficult questions that all cities in Europe are dealing with. I believe that art has the possibility to provoke and make us consider the dilemmas, we are currently facing, in a different perspective,” Jensen said.

The inflatable is made out of the same material as the boats used by human traffickers crossing the Mediterranean Sea as part of the artists' attempt to symbolizing the journey refugees go through in order to reach Europe. 

Following this theme, the designers created the inflatable in the image of an adult male who “gazes blankly into the distance” and who’s sheer size matches the “reactions his arrival in the Western world evoked”.

The Inflatable Refugee is meant to complement Schellekens & Peleman’s ‘Moving Stories’ project, which was conceived after the artist group “detected a (growing) gap between newcomers and natives in any place in the world”.

Everywhere the “Inflatable Refugee” goes, the artists send random locals letters written by refuges. The content of the letters are up to each writer, and the receiver is able to respond if he or she wishes.

 “Moving Stories” travels together with “Inflatable Refugee”. Photo: Schellekens and Peleman

After spending the night in Copenhagen, the “Inflatable Refugee” will set sail once again in the Nyhavn area at 10am on Tuesday and then head toward Kastrup in the early afternoon.

The 'Inflatable Refugee' can be seen sailing in Venice, Italy here: 

More information on Schellekens & Peleman's projects can be found here


How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.