Compassion for Spanish refugee children remembered

On the 20th May 2017 a plaque was unveiled at Lancing Public Library. This marked the site of Penstone House where 30 Spanish refugee children were cared for whilst they stayed in the village of Lancing in the south east of Britain. In 1937 following pressure from the British public the government reluctantly gave permission for 4000 people from the Basque region to seek sanctuary in the UK.[1] A recently published list on the website shows the vast majority evacuated from northern Spain were children. The refugees were only permitted by the government under the condition that they were to be entirely supported by the British public with no financial aid from the government.[2]    

Blue plaque unveiled, Lancing. 2017. Courtesy of Sophie Cook.
Blue plaque unveiled, Lancing. 2017. Courtesy of Sophie Cook.

Today’s humanitarian crisis

There are shocking parallels to today’s humanitarian crisis with the governments slow reaction to the many unaccompanied refugee children trying to enter Britain. It is the call of the public and human rights organisations including Safe Passage that have managed to open the borders for some. Drs of the World, UK have also been involved in this process taking the government to court in 2015 for not allowing refugee children who had a legal right to join family in Britain. Drs of the World provide health care in refugee camps as well as setting up weekly doctors surgeries in London and Brighton for those who can not access the National Health Service for fear of exportation. This so far limited government response to the humanitarian crisis has taken far to long to begin, with far reaching consequences. Reports are coming through now of increasing numbers of refugee children self harming and attempting to commit suicide having found themselves being held in squalid make shift camps prevented from reaching the UK, which they have fought so hard to reach.

Still a need for Guernica

It is now eighty years on from the bombing of the town of Gernika (26 April 1937) and Pablo Picasso’s creation of his painting in response to that attack and others in Spain that targeted civilian populations. There is still a need and a place for Guernica’s shapes and symbols to communicate the suffering of civilian populations begun by conflict, to remind us of the cause of so many displaced people and unaccompanied children – a staggering 65.3 million to date. Guernica’s humanitarian message is still relevant in the 21st century, as it calls for solidarity and compassion across borders.

Guernica Remakings Videos

Thanks to collective banner maker Valerie Maidstone the Remaking Picasso’s Guernica protest banner was at the unveiling of the blue plaque in Lancing.  The banners presence connects past conflicts with recent ones through its protest activity. In the second of three research videos on Remaking Picasso’s Guernica a banner, the makers speak about: the experience of taking the banner on protest, the use of drones to target civilians and the shapes of Guernica translated to respond to contemporary life.

[1] Herminio Martínez speaking on, “Yachts and Tampon Truancy.” Jeremy Vine, Radio 2. 28 April 2017: 1:45:00.

[2]  Professor Paul Preston speaking on, “Yachts and Tampon Truancy.” Jeremy Vine, Radio 2. 28 April 2017: 1:40:35.

For more information on the soaring numbers of displaced children see: