Refugee Odyssey to Europe (large edit)
“Are we humans or animals”, a Pakistani refugee asks me in the centre of Athens. It is a question I heard a couple of times on the refugee route towards Europe. Since the summer of 2015 I follow the refugees on their Odyssey towards a safe heaven or better life opportunities in Europe. Through Greece, the Balkans and into France and Belgium. The Pakistani refugee with whom I spoke while he was waking up from under some dirty blankets on Onomaia square in Athens, is one of the 60.000 refugees currently stuck in Greece. Their lives are on hold. Because the nice promise of the relocation of 160.000 refugees from Greece and Italy to other EU member states, became a bad joke. Only 5000 were relocated up till now. Another example of Europe's worrisome handling of the refugee crisis.
With the Arab spring, the Syrian conflict, and the deterring situation in the Middle East refugee camps by early 2015, an unseen refugee odyssey towards Europe unfolded. People try to get away from war, poverty or a lack of opportunities. The refugee odyssey is filled with panic, disorientation, anger and fear. Europe has the moral plight to organise this odyssey in a human way. But I Witnessed severe dog bites and beating wounds. The Hungarian police forces, backed up by Frontex, the European border force, don't spare their sticks when refugees try to cross the Serbian Hungarian border. This treatment is against all possible international laws and agreements, but who is protesting? Same story in Bulgaria. I saw Syrian families stranded in Greece and Serbia living in very bad conditions for almost a year. Some children never did go to school. Is this the road Europe wants to take? And should the US not do more of its fair share?
Europe is also at stake. It is build on the values of the French Revolution – freedom, equality, fraternity – and it's Christianity heritage – helping the other –. But now some politicians exploit successfully the anger against “the other”. The bad other is used to shift attention away from growing social, financial end ecological problems. Many in Europe are afraid of the refugees. Because of the wrong mix of terror attacks and refugees, the low wage jobs being outsourced, the social security net being downplayed. So it has become even more necessary than before to document in a compelling and empathic way the refugees seeking shelter in Europe. I try to portray the other with this verse of Arthur Rimbaud: “Je est un autre”. I want to show the insecurity, the disorientation and deeper feelings of the refugees. To give them a human face.
These series is been made made possible by the ngo Doctors of The World Belgium who is giving medical care on the refugee route and also by De Standaard newspaper, especially Jan Desloover. For this work I received the Belgian Press Photographers price in the category 'Stories', the 2nd prize in the Life Framer 'Humans of the World' Award, a finalist mention in the Alexandra Boulat Award, a show at Rencontres d'Arles' Festival Voies-Off and a Lensculture Emerging Photographer Award.
I continue to document the refugee route.