Ken Loach shines spotlight on plight of Syrian refugees in new film

Ken Loach has talked about the “very good people” helping to look after Syrian refugees, which is the subject of his latest film.

The Old Oak is a story of two traumatised communities thrown together when a group of Syrian refugees are housed in a neglected former mining village in the North East of England.

In an interview with the Big Issue magazine, the film director said the story is infused with hope, as common ground is found between a community of refugees fleeing war and a local area decimated by “decades of government neglect”.

He said: “It’s about the struggle of hope to emerge, isn’t it, and the struggle of people to see hope.

“We couldn’t be in a more disastrous situation with civil society collapsing around us, health, education, homelessness, housing, student debt, poverty and hunger used as a weapon, transport collapsing.

“Every aspect of our life is collapsing, with the added danger from climate disaster.

“So, where you find hope in all that is the big question.

“But the hope has to be in people’s determination to resist and our instinct, and I think it is an instinct, for solidarity.”

Ken Loach
Ken Loach with the award for Outstanding British Film for I, Daniel Blake in the press room during the EE British Academy Film Awards held at the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, Kensington (Ian West/PA)

The Old Oak completes a trilogy of films set in the North East, tackling the biggest issues in society, each written by regular collaborator Paul Laverty.

In 2016, the pair shone a spotlight on benefits sanctions and the desperation fuelling the expansion of food banks in I, Daniel Blake.

Two years later, with Loach now into his 80s, Sorry We Missed You highlighted the impact of the gig economy and its effect on workers’ rights.

Loach added: “We felt we needed to tell a third story, centred in the old mining communities.

“Because the whole area was coal mining, shipbuilding and steel, and all the old industry is gone.

“So what are the consequences for ordinary people?

“The consequences are that the old mining communities are left abandoned with nothing.

“So how do we reveal that in a way that also sheds light on the dangerous swing to the right?

“What happened was that groups of refugees from the Syrian war were placed in these old mining areas by the Government without much preparation.

“Now it is much better and there are very good people that help look after refugees from Syria.

“But refugees from a war zone are placed in these desolate communities that were abandoned with little hope – how can they coexist?

“Where can we find hope in all that?

“That was the key question.

“When people who have been through the trauma of war are placed in a community of people who have nothing, where do we find hope?”

The Old Oak is in cinemas from the end of the month.