Socialist Worker

Human Flow brings out the human stories behind the refugee crisis

Behind the numbers which dominate the refugee crisis lie millions of untold stories. Artist Ai Weiwei’s film Human Flow brings them out, writes Sally Kincaid

Issue No. 2584

An aerial shot from Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow

An aerial shot from Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow

The artist Ai Weiwei was born an internal Chinese refugee, his poet father was banished to the countryside by the Chinese Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution. He is now in exile in Germany.

His story is one of millions. We are seeing the biggest human displacement since the Second World War—65 million people escaping from famine, climate change and war.

The numbers can seem hard to visualise. However, Ai puts faces and stories to statistics.

He uses drones to film over camps and, as the camera zooms in, the dots become people.

Ai’s film Human Flow is clear about what is responsible for the crisis—war, climate change and poverty.

It is a long film. He visits 23 countries in total. But it raises questions of which countries are missed out.

Walking along Mexican border reminds us that the majority of US citizens are the children of refugees and migrants.

Afghan refugees who have made their homes in Pakistan return home only to find that their land is gone and they have become refugees again.


Even when refugees successfully end their journey, they experience another form of imprisonment. We see people living in a huge former aircraft hangar in Berlin.

Ai shows it is still a camp and people are still in limbo.

One of the most haunting bits is the reminder about how easy it is for the rich to travel the world while millions of others are stranded in a miserable limbo. Even having a passport is a luxury denied to many and assumed as normal by some who have them.

Ai shows how ridiculous the border system is by jokingly swapping his passport with Mahmoud, a refugee fleeing Syria.

His critics ask if refugees will have the opportunity to see the film. He responds to by insisting that this is the wrong question. The purpose is to show it to people who are in a position to help and have a responsibility. The refugees need help.

Those of us who have visited the camps to show solidarity with refugees will know his feeling.

“You tell these people that you’re the same as them,” says Ai.

“But you are lying because you are not the same. Your situation is different—you must leave them. And that’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life.”

People should go and see the film, and use it as an opportunity to raise solidarity for refugees and argue for opening the borders.

Everyone will want to do something after seeing this.

For show times go to

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