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Refugees

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World Refugee Day

June 20th is World Refugee Day, established by the United Nations to raise awareness of the 43.7 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world. They are men, women and children forced to flee their homes due to persecution, violence or conflict. You can read more about this campaign and make donations on the the World Refugee Web site created by the UNHCR.

Above are a few images from Reportage photographers who have focused their attention on refugee crises over the years. Clockwise from top:

SOMALILAND - MARCH 4, 2010: Tired Somali refugees sleep in the desert after traveling all night through rain and muddy roads on their trip to Yemen. Every year, thousands of people risk their lives crossing the Gulf of Aden to escape conflict and poverty in Somalia. (Photo by Ed Ou/Reportage by Getty Images)

LAIZA, KACHIN STATE – DECEMBER 20, 2011: Internally displaced refugees wait for food stamps to be handed out in Jeyang Camp in northern Myanmar. After a 17-year ceasefire, and despite promises to the contrary from Myanmar President Thein Sein, the Burmese Army went on an offensive in June 2011. (Photo by Christian Holst/Reportage by Getty Images)

SOUTH SUDAN - 2012: The shoes of Gasim Issa, who walked for 20 days on his journey from Blue Nile State, Sudan, to South Sudan. He is in his 50s. (Photo by Shannon Jensen)

NORTH KIVU, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO - OCTOBER, 2012: A camp of refugees who fled the conflict between the government and M23 rebels. (Photo by Alvaro Ybarra Zavala/Reportage by Getty Images)

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From wildfires in Australia and riots in Belfast to the one year anniversary of the capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia and snow storms in the Middle East, TIME presents the best images of the week.

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From the Sandy Hook Elementary students’ return to school and the death of a gang-rape victim in India to New Year’s celebrations and a giant rubber duck in Darling Harbor, Australia, TIME presents the best images of the week.

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From the elementary school shooting in Connecticut and continued protests in Egypt to Syrian refugees in Turkey and the Pope’s first tweet, TIME presents the best images of the week.

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The whole time I was shooting I could hear the deafening sound of the shells landing only a couple kilometers away, a reminder of how close I was to the fighting.

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Scores of Syrian civilians, many of them women with screaming children, are crossing Orontes, a narrow river marking the border with Turkey, to flee the fighting in Azmarin and surrounding villages. Residents on the other side of the river, from the Turkish village of Hacipasa, help pull them across in small metal boats.

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In 2008, photojournalist Alixandra Fazzina, who lives in Pakistan, began to stumble across stories of young Afghan refugees, children who were fleeing the country for Europe. Soon after she noticed the phenomenon, she visited a refugee camp in Afghanistan, where she witnessed the funeral of a boy who had died trying to cross from Turkey to Greece. Then, on the same visit, at a hospital, she met a boy who had lost his legs—not as she initially assumed, from a land mine, but as a consequence of having been kidnapped and tortured when trying to go west. “All the time he just kept saying he wanted to get the Europe again, despite the risks. He was just so convinced that there was absolutely no future for him as a young Afghan,” Fazzina says. The last time she saw him was in Greece, where he had again fled, the second time losing the prosthetic legs he had needed after his first attempt at emigration. “He was very lucky to survive that far, and he wasn’t done yet.”

The phenomenon that Fazzina observed first-hand was soon confirmed by statistics. The photographer noted a 64% jump in the number of underage Afghan refugees applying for asylum in Europe in 2010. With money that came that same year with her recognition by UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) as the first journalist to win the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award, along with the support of the Norwegian government, Fazzina began a project to document the hardships faced by young people making that journey from Afghanistan.

That project, Flowers of Afghanistan, is now about one-third completed; Fazzina is planning to continue her work in Iran, Pakistan and Italy in the coming months. “When the U.S. leaves, we’re on the brink of civil war,” she says. “It’s very important to me to be highlighting this at this point in time. It’s very important for people to realize that Afghanistan isn’t a success story.”

Although Fazzina had intended to follow the boys—and the very few girls who make the trip—along the road, photographing them, she has found that the journeys are rarely linear. Before they leave home, the boys hide their travel plans, often even from their parents; smugglers, Fazzina says, warn them that to tell will cast a jinn, a bad spirit, on their travels. And once they leave home, false starts are likely; kidnapping is frequent and deportation is a possibility even for children who seek asylum. Instead, Fazzina says she relies on networks and word of mouth, and perhaps the trust that is more easily won by a woman, to find the refugees at each stop along the way. She says that even smugglers, once they hear about her project, will reach out and provide information about their whereabouts. “Of course I want to see them traveling, but I’m not interested in photographing the smugglers themselves, so a lot of what I’ve been getting has been, in photography terms, very quiet pictures,” she says. Her photos from the series are often dark, capturing a moment of furtive rest or a person who must stay in the shadows, but stillness and gloom does not mean calm. “When I take a step back,” she says, “I often wonder if people really understand how dangerous it was.”

And the more time Fazzina has spent in that shadowy world, the clearer the patterns have become. About half the boys, she says, are fatherless due to war or sickness, thrusting them into positions of responsibility in their families. They are from the least stable provinces in the country. Recently, she met some children in Peshawar who had given up or been deported back to Afghanistan, and noticed another level of pattern. “I started to talk to them about the journey, and it was the same places, the same hotels they were held hostage in,” she says. “It’s very shocking and repetitive.”

Even though Fazzina has rarely been able to literally follow the boys she photographs, she has found that there’s a virtual way to keep track of them: through their own photographs, on Facebook. “I see a boy I’ve met and his pictures of himself in Athens, taken with fast cars and in tourist locations and in borrowed clothes, whereas the reality was he was living in a hotel, like a squat, that was being run by the smuggling mafia, full of prostitutes and drugs. It was a million miles from the pictures he showed,” she says. Unfortunately, that brave face can encourage others to try to make the dangerous journey themselves.

She once tried to make those photos that the boys take of themselves into something more true. One 16-year-old she met was passionate about photography. He was, she says, a “genius” at it. He wanted to be a filmmaker. After he survived for six days in a trucking container and arrived in Rome, Fazzina tried to get a camera to him through her colleagues in Italy. By that time he had left for Paris. They spoke by phone. He said that he had been told that he was too old when he went to a children’s home and that he was too young when he went to a refuge for adults. He was sleeping on the streets, in the winter, in the snow. She still hadn’t gotten a camera to him. He didn’t call again. “He just moved on. He disappeared. I have no idea what happened to him,” she says. “I am fearful what his fate is.”

Alixandra Fazzina is a British photojournalist. She is represented by NOOR Images and is the 2010 recipient of the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award. More information about Flowers of Afghanistan is available here.

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