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  • Cagla Bulut

Refugee stories told from the women’s point of view

'Three mothers,' a play by Mattilda Velevitch, sheds light on individual female destinies during forced migration and tells stories of war and flight from the women's point of view.


In 2015, when hundreds of thousands of refugees started seeking asylum in Europe and other parts of the world, the media started talking about numbers rather than individuals. Journalists around the world who covered their stories referred to the situation as a 'crisis' and a 'catastrophe.' They often described these people as a 'wave of refugees', ignoring the fact that they fled their countries because their livelihoods were at risk and risked their lives to find safety in another place. Calling refugees "a wave" dehumanized these people and showcased them as a threat to European civilization, dragging the western world and its population into uncertain and dark depths, just like a wave does in the sea.

Artists, like Velevitch, have understood the problem in this narrative and created works which provide a more human approach. Through a personal storytelling, the audience can identify not only with the people on stage but also with victims of war.

Velevitch says, 'I'm a firm believer in factual and emotional awareness through fictional storytelling. Information has never been so widely available, but I believe people need to personally identify with emotion in order to connect.'

Three mothers' tells the story of Gisela, Erika, and Khady. They all come from different countries and different paths of life, but at one point, their stories evolve together. Except for their differences, they all share two things: they are subject to migration and have to be keen to save themselves and the people they love.

Erika, a refugee from the historical region of Sudetenland (German name for the northern, southern, and western areas of former Czechoslovakia which were inhabited primarily by Sudeten Germans), has to leave her home with her baby, like the other ethnic Germans, after the Second World War and has to start a new life in Germany. During her flight, she has to witness rape and she suffers from hunger, exhaustion and cold temperatures.

Gisela is 72 years old and originally from Germany. She comes to the UK to live and work. When her husband dies, Gisela feels like a stranger on the island and returns to her former home in the Bavarian village. There she encounters the refugees, flying from war, and offers a helping hand to a young refugee from Senegal.

Khady, a Senegalese, tough, single mother, is obliged to send her son away to Europe so that he can earn money and save her ill daughter. Her humor helps her deal better with her despair and her jokes break up her audience.

This approach irritated me in the beginning, making me wonder if I misunderstood the things she was saying. Because the issue of migration and flight is severe, and not something one can laugh about, I thought.

But as the play was going on, I felt like it was just the right balance of tragedy and comedy. Otherwise, seeing and hearing those three tragic stories could be hard to bear for the audience.

Refugees and migration are often associated with Syria, the Middle-East in general, and African countries. It's easy to forget that war and forced-migration were a reality in European countries not too long ago. Reminding people of this former reality through art can provide a better understanding of the current situation and a chance to emphasize more with refugees.

The narrative of refugees nowadays is mostly reduced on the males seeking asylum and the threat they allegedly entail for Western women. It's not seldom that they're depicted as criminals and rapists.

While men are showcased as a potential danger, the women's experience and point of view gets barely told.

Giving these women a voice and giving their stories a platform was Velevitch's intension. She says, 'I researched, interviewed, and collected verbatim accounts of refugee women past and present in order to create a human story that would connect us all to a tangible theme: motherhood. We all have a mother.'

Member of the audience, Polly Mackintosh, an Editorial Assistant, says she liked most the universality of the play, 'I thought it showed a new perspective on immigration. It vowed together three different stories and made them more about just migration. It was more about everybody can relate to this. They're all mothers. And they're all experiencing immigration in different ways. Which I found really powerful.'

'Three Mothers' shows a more human and the female side of forced migration, which is certainly missing in the coverage of mainstream media. It gives women a voice and reminds us of their importance and strength in hard times such as war and flight.


For more information about Matilda Velevitch and future projects visit: https://velevitch.com/


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