Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has decried Europe’s treatment of refugees, as he continues to document the crisis faced by millions of people fleeing war and persecution.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Idomeni near the Greek-Macedonian border, where some 13,000 people remain stuck in squalid conditions, Ai Weiwei said European politicians’ response to the crisis is stripping refugees of their “very basic human rights”.
The makeshift camp at Idomeni has become massively overcrowded in the past few weeks as border restrictions prevent refugees from continuing their journeys from Greece to northern Europe. Conditions there are poor, amid wet, cold weather and a lack of essential supplies such as food, nappies and waterproof clothing.
Ai Weiwei, who often uses his social media accounts to highlight social issues, has repeatedly visited the Greek island of Lesbos since the beginning of the refugee crisis.
He spoke to Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid.
Al Jazeera: What is your impression of what refugees are going through at the moment?
Ai Weiwei: My impression is that they are completely being neglected and their very basic rights are being neglected. Refugees are not slaves – they have dignity, they are just like you and me. They come from the war, a war caused by many, many politicians for all kinds of reasons. But they are the victimised by this war. They come to Europe just for a moment of peace. I talked to many of them – they never really want to stay here [Idomeni].
They have to bring their children to a safe place. There are so many children running around – you understand that those people are very brave. They give up everything, they come to this land. Now in this land, every door is shut.
Politicians use them as bargaining chips; they never really see them as human beings. Their very essential rights are being neglected, it’s such a shame.
Al Jazeera: Is this one of the worst refugee camps you have seen?
Ai Weiwei: I think they are equally bad. I should say from Lesbos to here, they are bad not because of the conditions, but because the hearts of the Europeans. [They are] not giving them at least a little bit of dignity and love. This is a very sad situation.
Al Jazeera: From your conversations with refugees, what are they telling you they will do next?
Ai Weiwei: Basically they are very naive. They have to escape, they think there is some kind of future waiting for them. [From] my observation of the European talks, I think they are the ones being left out. There is no conversation to consider them as human beings. Their human rights are being so badly put down.
If we see the situation like today, their future is really dark. I can’t even tell them the door is not going to open for them. People still believe the door will open one day, the border will open one day .
Al Jazeera: The plight of refugees has inspired you in the past. What does this camp bring to you?
Ai Weiwei: I think nobody should see this situation. It’s so sad. Once you see this situation, you will never look at the field or the beach the same again.
If you think [about the children who] drowned … the past year, you just don’t understand what happened.
What happened to our humanity? What happened to our 21st century? We are living in such a privileged condition.
As an artist, I don’t know what to do. I just try to be there, document the situation. We are doing documentary films. We are trying to first study the situation and be involved, and give the world a full picture of whatever we have seen.