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Part of the power of these portraits lies in context, in learning who the migrants are, and how, amid such wretched circumstances, a democratic mix of citizens emerges—a melting pot of nationalities and ethnicities, of classes and educations. “It was surreal to see these women in their delicate scarves and fancy handbags,” Florio recalls. “With babes in arms—that type of thing. You had shoeless guys from West Africa and then Syrians who looked like they’d gone shopping for the day. Come as they are.” Jason Florio – read the full feature online: VQR, Winter Edition 2016
A good friend of mine posted a comment on her FB page yesterday, in response to some of the disturbing comments, about the migrant and refugee crisis, left on another FB page: ‘I’m not mean but let them in will be the end of gsy it’s hard for locals to live now all most of them will do is go on the dole and get free houses let there govoment sort it out in stead of putting all the money they get in there pockets so they have a good life and there people go with OUT’ JB of the Channel Islands. My friend asked if I would comment, as my husband, photojournalist, Jason Florio, has recently been documenting the boat rescues for MOAS, onboard the Phoenix, in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Libya.
I saw your FB post earlier, S., and, yes, it makes me extremely sad, and aghast, that people can be so myopic and so grossly uninformed – to put it politely. And, I did think twice about posting this link from Migrant Report : ‘The Pictures That Need to Be Seen‘ (caution – the images are truly shocking and devastating). But, in light of some of the comments I read on the above mentioned FB page, I believe the images should be seen, if only to wake, shake, up some of the commentators.
As you know, S., Florio has been documenting, for MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station), onboard the Phoenix, their boat rescue missions in the Mediterranean; thankfully, he didn’t witness this particular horrific incident, but some of his colleagues have – and it’s not the first time they have either. Before Florio began working with MOAS, I was horrified by the news reports… how the hell could parents be so irresponsible as to take their babies and small children – and, in some cases, send their 14 year son, completely alone – on such a dangerous and life-threatening journey?! It was completely beyond my comprehension. However, I have since watched numerous interviews Florio has recorded, post-rescue, onboard the Phoenix – with many migrants and refugees – and the consensus is that the majority (particularly those from Syria, for example) would have done anything not to leave their homes, their professions – many are lawyers, doctors, nurses – behind and/or risk the lives of their whole family, to venture into the complete unknown. But, when your life is in constant danger; you live under a brutal dictatorship; you are forced to join the National Service at any early age, for an indeterminate amount of time, paid very poorly – and not allowed to leave until you are too old to follow your life ambition to be i.e. a doctor (Google: Eritrea); your basic human rights are ignored (Google: Ethiopia); the list goes on – there is often little choice, other than to move on, to find a better life.
Is that so difficult to comprehend? Maybe so, for those of us lucky enough to have the freedom to sit comfortably each day, eating our three square meals, as we watch the 6 o’clock (mostly edited just so, so as not to offend – too much) news, from the safety of our homes, through the impenetrable barrier of a screen; without the perpetual worry of a bomb dropping on your home, or your children being fatally wounded by shrapnel, whilst out playing in the street… . Imagine that. And, yes, we can argue the fact that the countries where thousands, upon thousands are fleeing from (the numbers are staggering) need to address what is going on, the people smugglers need to be stopped, and so on… but all of this will take time, a long time, to even begin to put right. In the meantime, these thousands of people men – women, children, babies – are on a survival mission, and they need sanctuary now, after having left behind everything that is familiar to them; often taking little more than a memento of their home with them (such as a letter from loved one, a tattered copy of the Koran, protected by a plastic bag, a postage stamp, a local coin – all real things, that people have shown Florio, during interviews). And, don’t even get me started on what they have to go through, even before they pay thousands of dollars to get on one of those nowhere-near-seaworthy-enough-to-make-it-to-Italy-boats!, out of lawless Libya… this subject is well documented. Just check out more of the links on Migrant Report, and, in time, through some of the interviews Florio has conducted (just think rape – on both men and women – torture, kidnapping, imprisonment, starvation, forced unpaid labour), for a forthcoming documentary from MOAS.
The images of dead children are shocking beyond belief and have been condemned by many as ‘sensationalism’, ‘headline-grabbing‘, ‘emotive‘… . Yet, the reality is, is that this is happening on an almost daily basis, out there in the Mediterranean, and many of the people fleeing towards a ‘better life‘ are already aware of the immense dangers they face, and possible death. Again, how can we (us, the ones who watch the teatime news, as another tragedy at sea unfolds, from our comfortable armchairs) possibly comprehend what propels people to take their whole family, walk out their front door, with just the clothes that they are wearing, and – in many cases – walk across deserts, other countries, to take such unimaginable risks?
So, perhaps now it is time to take the kid gloves off and face the harsh reality, see those images close up… . After all, it’s nowhere near (nowhere near!) the utter wretchedness that many, many people are enduring every single day, in an attempt to find that better life.
Welcome to Europe!
Links – to become more informed:
MOAS_EU – also, this is where you can donate to help keep the ‘Phoenix’ rescue boat in the Med., for as long as it’s needed.
Our Photos Tell Stories Photojournalism Workshop for IOM, in The Gambia, began last week with a group of young Gambian journalists, selected by the International Organisation for Migration. Our first day, spent in the classroom, included an introduction to photojournalism, and technical skills, with photographer and filmmaker, Jason Florio. He also shared his work of over 18 months aboard a rescue ship – for the NGO, MOAS – where he documented multiple rescues, in the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. IOM’s Communication’s Officer, Miko Alazaz, also presented to the class IOM’s ethics of interviewing and photographing returnees of ‘the backway‘.
“Our workshop with photographers, and filmmakers, Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, this week allowed photojournalists to learn both technical skills and migration dynamics in The Gambia—then headed out to gather empowering and dignifying photos of returnees.” IOM
For the remainder of the week, we headed out with the journalists to interview and photograph young Gambian’s who IOM had helped to come back home from Libya, to The Gambia.
Huge thanks to all the journalists involved in the Photos Tell Stories photography workshop – who have produced some incredible work, over the past week – and, to IOM for inviting us to present the workshop. Respect and gratitude, to all the returnees, their friends and family, who agreed to share their very personal stories with us, along with allowing the journalists to photograph them.
The journalists’ images will be part of a forthcoming IOM photography exhibition, about the returnees who they have aided with their reintegration back into Gambian society – more news on the exhibition date, coming soon.
January 2020 – Currently in The Gambia, West Africa
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