Evening Standard

I hope warzone garden will help others understand migrants’ plight, says refugee

- Mark Blunden Will Stone

A REFUGEE who survived a sea crossing crammed in a smugglers’ boat today said he hopes an “antigarden” at Hampton Court Flower Show, featuring a warzone, helps visitors understand the ordeal endured by migrants.

Josi Tewelde, who was 15 when he left Eritrea, helped build The Border Control. It won the award for best conc e pt u a l g a rd e n a nd has moved people to tears.

A wildflower meadow, surrounded by a moat and barbed wire fence, is set in a “warzone” made from 30 tons of rubble with dead and living plants. It features lifejacket­s and possession­s that were owned by migrants.

A uniformed “border guard” checks visitors, who are given the same blue wristbands refugees wear in camps to show their identit y and obtain rations. The garden, featuring species such as eryngiums, poppies, aloe, l ave n d e r and thyme, was built with the hel p of re f uge e s f ro m Afghanista­n and the east African nation of Eritrea. Mr Tewelde, now 18, fled a regime accused of systematic and widespread human rights violations.

He was granted refugee status after a s i x- mont h t re k t o L o n d o n whi c h included paying $1,000 (£770) to cross the Mediterran­ean from Libya with 300 others. He lived in the “Jungle” camp in Calais and made it to the UK by paying smugglers another €500 (£425) to stow away in a cross-Channel lorry.

“My hope is visitors will understand the risks people take to come here,” he said. “That they see what it’s like to live under a dictatorsh­ip, to risk your life to be able to make it here. It’s something I hope will change people’s minds. It was quite emotional for me when I saw the garden for the first time because it reflects my own story.”

Mr Tewelde, from Catford, is studying healthcare and childcare in the hope of working for the NHS to “give something back to British society”.

Historian Sir Roy Strong aid the garden would shock traditiona­l visitors: “It’s an anti-garden. It crosses the line between gardening and modern art. It’s not a bad thing to get people out of their comfort zone.”

The UN refugee agency paid £15,000 towards the installati­on and £5,000 was provided by the Royal Horticultu­ral Society. London-based garden designers Tom Massey and John Ward devised it after hearing the harrowing stories of people forced to flee by wars.

Mr Massey said: “We’ve had people moved to tears, especially when we tell them that some items — lifejacket­s, children’s toys and boots — were from the beaches of Lesbos, where they were washed up.”

RHS Hampton Court Flower Show runs until Sunday.

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