‘In the fetid bowels the last of an estimated 200 people that were below deck on a fishing boat carrying 416, wait for the rescue team to evacuate them. Many of them were Bangladeshis, who had lived in Libya as skilled guest workers until the security situation made it untenable to remain, forcing them to take the only route possible where already over 1800 had died in the past 6 months in hopes of getting to safety.’ JASON FLORIO
Recently published, along with exclusive black and white portraits of rescued migrants and refugees, a 35-page feature, in VQR – Virginia Quarterly Review – Winter 2016 edition. See more of Florio’s images and read the full feature here.
Whilst on the MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) Phoenix, documenting the migrant and refugee boat rescues in the Mediterranean, off the Libyan coast, a couple of months ago, Florio, met a young man, Lamin, from The Gambia, West Africa; a country which we had, at that point, been living in full time for over a year and a half. For Florio, he was meeting someone from a place we have considered to be our second home for many, many years. And, one can only imagine Lamin’s surprise when, upon boarding the rescue dingy to be transported to the Phoenix, he was not only met with a big, friendly smile but also welcomed by a ‘toubab‘, greeting him in his own language, Mandinka!
Once safely on the Phoenix, Florio spent the remainder of the journey to Italy talking with Lamin about his harrowing journey, from West Africa to Libya. When it was time for the Lamin and the others to disembark in Italy, he gave his cell number to Lamin, making him promise to make contact with him when he could get the use of a phone again (Lamin, along with everyone else he was rescued with, had been robbed of everything of value by the people smugglers they had paid, in Libya, before being pushed onto an overcrowded, woefully un-seaworthy, small boat: their papers, cell phones, and money, all taken). In return, Florio promised to make contact with Lamin’s family, to let them know he was alive and safe.
A couple of weeks later, Florio got a call from Lamin, who is now in Italy (coincidentally, we just found out that Lamin has now been joined by a very old friend of ours, another young Gambian man, who had gone ‘the back way‘. However, that’s another story… ), waiting for his papers to allow him to move on. Collaborating with a friend, investigative journalist Louise Hunt, who was also living in The Gambia then – and who has been researching and writing about the plight of West African migrants – the following interview came about, via IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks).
‘Mohammed Lamin quit his job, borrowed money from his brother, and left the Gambia for Europe via the “back way” – the highly dangerous overland route to Libya through the Sahel, and then on to Europe on a smuggler’s boat...’ Words by Louise Hunt for IRIN – read the full article here.
‘I was wearing a white protective suit and had my cameras; I looked like a spaceman. I shook their hands and tried to make eye contact, then I climbed on to the engine cover. This is maybe a quarter of those on board. It was only when there was a scuffle that I realised there were people under the decks. I looked down into a black hole, and you could just see people sat on each other’s laps. They were calling: “Please get us out, it’s so hot, we’re suffocating.” It was like the old pictures you see of slave ships. They’d been like that for 14 hours… .’ Jason Florio – read the full interview here
‘For the media, it can be a difficult story to cover. Drownings in remote ocean locales are not places that reporters and photographers can reach easily or rapidly. All too often, the boats they seek to find are lost to the depths before anyone can arrive. So the images the world sees of the migrant crisis are usually those of survivors being led ashore from rescue vessels. Rarely do we see the moment rescuers reach migrants in open waters.
That’s what makes these images so remarkable…’ Read the full feature in Foreign Policyhere.