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Espen Rasmussen

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Norwegian photographer Espen Rasmussen spent six years photographing refugees in eight countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Georgia, Norway, Syria and Yemen). In 2004 Rasmussen discovered a common theme in the stories of refugees he found himself covering in places as disparate as Chad and Serbia, and decided to follow in the footsteps of displaced people the world over. Rasmussen writes about this remarkable opening image:

“I took the Janjaweed picture during a trip to Chad in 2004. I stayed in the border areas with Sudan for two weeks, documenting the lives of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the violence in the Darfur province in Sudan. Many of them lived in huge camps, others were forced to live in dry rivers, so that they could water their livestock. I crossed the border into Darfur together with a local town leader, and after a drive of some hours, we saw a group of armed men riding towards us in the desert. We stopped and talked with them, presenting me as a reporter. After following the Janjaweed group for a few hours, I returned to Chad with a set of images. The next day we got news that the group had crossed the border into Chad and attacked a local village, burning down the houses. The Janjaweed militia is responsible for massive violence in Darfur, and is accused of being armed by the Sudanese government.”

You can see the impressive results of Rasmussen’s years covering refugees in his brand new book Transit, or on Transit’s interactive online pages. Photographs courtesy Espen Rasmussen/Panos Pictures.

“They are called the Janjaweed militia “Devils on horseback”. They arrived on horseback through the desert, 30 strong and heavily armed. These are the men who have forced hundreds of thousands to flee and who are responsible for killing and rape in Darfur province, western Sudan. Their leader is decorated with knives, bullet belts, automatic weapons and a spear. The populace are the victims in a conflict involving rebels, the Sudanese army and militant nomads. The Arabian Janjaweed soldiers are accused of the genocide of the non-Arabian part of the population, with help from the authorities.”

“A mother buries her second child in the space of a week. Family and friends have gathered around the tiny coffin in the Soacha slum in Colombia to pay their respects. A year earlier her husband was killed, so the family had to flee from the town of Putumayo. The woman believes that the paramilitary group who killed her husband also killed the children, to prevent them from returning to their home. Her five year old boy was kidnapped and beaten to death, while his eight year old sister was strangled in her bed. Everyday life for the between 3.3 – 4.9 million internally displaced in Colombia is dangerous. Paramilitary groups, the guerrillas and the army fight for territory and cocaine production. Families are forced to flee every day, often to the slums around the capital city.”

Adem (25), Yemen:
“Every day I have to tie my three children to the wall with rope. There is nobody here to look after them. I am afraid they will injure themselves if not, or crawl out of the window. The twins are three years old, my daughter is only two. They are alone from when I go to work around six o’clock in the morning until I come home again around midday. I work as a housemaid, but the money I earn is not enough for both rent and food. I earn around 50 dollars a month, when there is work. My rent is 46 dollars a month. Sometimes I get food from the families I clean for. It pains me to tie up my children. I think about them every single day. How will they grow up? Will they go to school? Will they survive? Like any mother, I dream that they will get an education, go to a university and become engineers or doctors. I just want them to go to school, to have friends and to play like other children.”

“During the escalating violence in Iraq in 2007, the owner of one of the most popular restaurants in Baghdad had to close it down and flee. In Syria, in Damascus, he re-opened in the Iraqi neighborhood Jaramana, and has found the same popularity among his customers – just in a different country. All people working in the restaurant are Iraqi refugees.”

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