Beginning in 2015, Europe was faced with the biggest refugee crisis since WWII. People from Western and South Asia, Africa and the Balkans made the journey to Europe to seek asylum from the danger, turmoil and warfare in their home countries. 48% of refugees are Syrian, 21% are Afghani and 9% are Iraqi, according to Wikipedia. 57% are adult men, 17% are women and 27% are children.
Magnum photographer Thomas Dworzak did a feature called “The Refugee Crisis Across Central Europe,” where he traveled to the Hungarian-Serbian border to document the refugee crisis. The images that he produces are very difficult to put into perspective. It is easy to look at these images without really thinking about what these people are going through, but it becomes much more difficult when trying to put yourself – the viewer – in the shoes of the refugee. I didn’t do that the first time I looked at his images. I am going to do that right now.
Imagine packing up what was important to you – whatever could fit in your backpack, and leaving your home. And not leaving by car, but by foot. You have to bring enough food to last you the journey through fields, mountains, maybe even overseas. You have to sleep on the ground. You have nowhere to return to, but you never wanted to leave in the first place, and then your home became too dangerous for you and your family to stay another day. You don’t even know if the country you’re headed to will let you in – there are millions of others just like you who are making a similar journey. Your culture is different than the place you’re headed to, your skin color is different, your language is different. Questions of identity, fear, knowing you don’t have a home anymore, all these things are constantly in your mind. The physical journey is maybe less difficult than the emotional journey, but you make it.
Dworzak’s images capture these concepts. Not only do refugees look tired, but their emotional exhaustion is prevalent in each and every image.
When I was in Germany over winter break, I stayed in a small town with family friends who had been living there for ten years. Just recently, they had let approximately five hundred refugees to live in Garmisch. Because they are not citizens, refugees aren’t able to be employed and therefore have no source of income. The government gives each refugee money each month for food, as well as government provided housing and cell phones. The Garmisch locals complained often about the refugees – they worried about their safety, and especially the safety of young girls (there were multiple complaints on New Years about sexual harassment during NYE celebrations done by refugees). The most significant thing that stood out to me was that – according to the locals – all the refugees were male. I didn’t see a single female refugee, and maybe a few children – and when you think about it, it makes sense. Women with children, especially, are less likely to make such a physically demanding journey to safety in Europe. I just thought this is an interesting devils-advocate point to make regarding the refugee crisis.
These points, however, do not mean that refugees aren’t suffering. In fact, Europe is seeing many refugees leaving the countries they sought asylum in. I believe in the media, the refugee crisis was covered in a way that portrayed them as just numbers, but it was also covered in a skewed way – often on television and news images, portraying women and children whereas the majority of refugees are men (if you look at a previous blog post of mine, Magnus Wennman has an emotional photo essay on the crisis that is skewed in this way). I believe Dworzak’s work captures the reality of what is going on in Europe.
Below, see some of my favorite images from Dworzak’s series (the full series is accessible by link here as well). I also found a great series on Syrian refugees in the USA, which is quite interesting work if you want to look at it (link here).