on the migrant trail: documenting the search for a better life
'Foreigner: Migration Into Europe,' is a photographic response to the sensationalist and alarmist imagery coming out of Europe’s refugee crisis. Turning the photographer’s lens into an instrument of compassion, it records the stories of the people...
What are the images that stick in your mind from the refugee crisis? The dead body of Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach? Crowds crossing borders in the Balkans? Right-wing politicians frothing hysterically at their mouths? Ai Weiwei amongst the refugees on Greek islands?
Foreigner: Migration Into Europe 2015-2016 is a new photobook by John Radcliffe Studio, a creative partnership between photographer Daniel Castro Garcia and graphic designer Tom Saxby. The book, they explain in its introduction, "attempts to capture individual stories and to use photography as a peaceful and empowering tool, rather than one of judgement."
Foreigner charts the various peoples and their journeys into Europe, those who've come from across North Africa and Middle East, fleeing conflicts from Eritrea and Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan. The Refugee Crisis is the biggest movement of people across Europe since the Second World War. It's tested the limits of the continent, brought out the best and worst in people.
The book maps those stories — its images from a protest against those who rush to judge and attack. It's a photographic account of the various migrations undertaken, those who made perilous sea journeys across the Med in make-shift boats to land on small islands like Lesbos and Lampedusa. The book traces the lives of those who made the journey across Europe as well, chased through the Balkans, who boarded trains to Germany and Sweden, who ended up stuck in The Jungle (a purgatorial camp) awaiting entrance to the UK. The images are honest and striking, touching and heartbreaking — but hopeful as well.
Foreigner begins in Lampedusa, Italy's southernmost island. Closer to Tunisia than Europe, it's a natural entry point into the continent from those escaping conflicts in Africa. For a time, the crisis there had got so serious that the Italian government had begun diverting all boats to Sicily, home to one Europe's largest reception centers. No refugees land at Lampedusa now; the images are hauntingly shorn of people. The blank landscapes contain echoes of stories, abandoned boats, capsized crafts washed up on the shores, Arabic graffiti, and discarded children's clothes.
The book visits the Sicilian port of Catania, where in June 2015 over 1000 refugees were rescued by the HMS Bulwark. It follows them to CARA di Mineo, a reception center on the island, a center crippled by corruption. The refugees, strung out by bureaucracy, are unable to fully integrate into Italian society. Many end up living rough on the streets of Catania.
then travels to Lesbos in November 2015, when 15 to 25 boats — each filled with approximately 60 people — were arriving each day, straining the small towns and coastal villages of the island. From there the book travels with the refugees across Europe, there are images of rooms full of people sleeping on trains and ferries, in makeshift camps or on the sides of roads. They traverse the continent by rail, trying to make it somewhere safe and permanent. They are stuck in No Man's Land trying to get into the EU. There are clashes, born out of frustration, between different groups of refugees fleeing different conflicts in continents. Many tear up their documents and claim to be Syrian, believing they'll get better treatment this way, will be granted entrance into their new lives quicker. Almost everyone is stuck somewhere — forced to wait days at a time before they will even be processed into a camp, let alone have their claims heard.
Many end up in The Jungle in Calais, and Foreigner documents the people of the camp as they struggle to try to reassemble the fragments of a life in the temporary space. They play cards and pray, eat, and protest their conditions. Security is tight, it's almost impossible for the refugees to make their way from The Jungle to England now. Conditions are perilous too; in July last year an Eritrean baby died an hour after birth after his mother fell from a lorry causing her to go into premature labor. In December of the same year, a Sudanese man, Youssef, was killed in a hit and run incident on a Calais highway. There are likely many more deaths covered up or ignored. In March of this year, the French authorities cleared parts of The Jungle by force. Over 3,000 people were expelled from their homes, and according to some estimates, many hundreds of them were unaccompanied children. Symbolic fires were started by the refugees in the protest, a last act of defiance by those with no hope of building themselves a better life.
There are similar situations happening all across the continent: less publicized, less visible to us, not on our doorsteps, but still just as traumatic for the refugees. One such is Idomeni, which Foreigner also documents. A village in the Greek-Macedonian hinterland, Idomeni is almost entirely made up of refugees, stuck there after Macedonia closed its border. People turned all available spaces into temporary housing, living in abandoned sheds and barns, making camps in the hills and fields. Up to 40% of the population is, apparently, children. The camp is badly managed; no one knows when they will be able to move on. When an outbreak of lice broke out, all the children had to shave their heads. Amongst those camp-like conditions, their starved faces and shaved heads conjure a ghost of a previous conflict — history repeating its tragedies again and again.
Text Felix Petty
Photography Daniel Castro Garcia