Photographers' Blog

Tightening Croatia’s borders

Along the Croatia border

By Antonio Bronic

Two months ago, I started working on a story about Croatia’s border police preparing for the country’s EU accession and trying to prevent illegal migrants from crossing into Croatia. For a media person, it is indeed rare to hang out with the police for 24 hours and I was afraid they would be stiff and uncooperative. How wrong I was. They were friendly and nice and, in the end, even took pity on my efforts to capture something dramatic on camera.

I visited three border crossings, two in the south, with Bosnia and Montenegro, and one in the east, with Serbia. I was mostly interested in finding out who were the people trying to cross the border illegally. They were mostly poor and unemployed citizens of Afghanistan, Syria and Albania, who wanted to reach rich European countries through Croatia, in hopes of finding salvation there.

From talking with the police who have been patrolling the borders for years, I found out that some illegal migrants travel for two months from Afghanistan and are really starving, thirsty, exhausted and poorly clad once they are caught. In some cases they surrender voluntarily to the police, just to get some food. Those who are captured are returned to the country from which they crossed into Croatia but that often does not stop them from trying again. There have been cases of illegal migrants who have tried to cross the border for ten days in a row. One of the most interesting and amusing stories I heard while hanging out with the border patrol was that once illegal migrants mistakenly entered a police van, thinking it was their arranged transport that would take them to another country.

I was just as unfortunate.

During the ten days I spent there I did not manage to photograph a single illegal migrant in action. Just a day before my arrival on the border crossing with Serbia, one Afghan man was captured. One day after my departure, of course, the police seized nine Syrians and two Albanians who had been hiding in a nearby village and waiting for a bus to their next destination. Abandoned houses in local villages are often used as a temporary shelter in which the migrants change their clothes or take a nap, always in a hurry, and often leave their old clothes scattered around the fields.
For the police, it is certainly the most difficult to arrest mothers with small children, and such cases are unfortunately not rare, they said.

The crossings I visited were in sparsely populated ares, near villages or towns with only a handful of residents, all of them known to the police. Every new face was therefore easily registered and observed with suspicion, which I was able to feel upon myself. Because my license plates were not from the area, local police grew suspicious of me as soon as I came to a place and immediately had me checked by radio.

Along the deadly Southern border

Along the U.S./Mexico border

By Eric Thayer

I’m running through the desert outside a tiny town called Encino with a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter flying above me. As I move through trees and bushes, the sand is soft and every step is an effort. It feels like I am running on the spot as I hold my cameras close so they don’t swing into my sides. Border Patrol agents are all around me and the only noises are the helicopter above, my own labored breathing and the sound of footsteps in the sand.

GALLERY: SCENES FROM THE BORDER

In south Texas, the Rio Grande River separates the U.S. from Mexico. It is a brown river that varies between 50 to 100 yards across. On the surface, the water looks calm as it meanders through the brush, but it hides swirling currents – just one of the many hazards faced by those who cross. The line between the two countries is imaginary here, but if you could see it as it appears on a map, it would be right in the middle of the river.

At this moment, the border is about 60 miles south. I’m with the U.S. Border Patrol after a report from a local rancher of a group of people crossing over his land. If they make it across the river, through the brush and past the Border Patrol there are vehicles that will take them north. From this part of Texas, there is basically just one checkpoint left, called Falfurrias. If they are able to bypass that, they can move up into other parts of the state and to the rest of the country.

Politics aside, along the border

California, along the U.S./Mexico border

By Mike Blake

A while back I had stopped at a cafe near San Ysidro, which is about as south as you can get in California before stepping into Mexico. I was walking out the door when I spotted three guys rolling up on ATV bikes dressed like they had just come out from one of my son’s Xbox games.

They were U.S. Border Patrol, grabbing a coffee, on a break from the dust of their patrols. I said to myself “Okay, I have to come back here and look into what these guys do.”

After a bunch of phone calls, emails and changing schedules (even a hard drive crash) I found my way back – this time I was in the game. I was in their dust, surrounded by their hills and trails and stepping into their real life cat-and-mouse game.

The lost dogs of Ciudad Juarez

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

By Jose Luis Gonzalez

As a photojournalist living and working in Ciudad Juarez I’m used to seeing dead people being picked up off the streets.

The last few years have been brutal, with violence and shoot-outs every day and dead people everywhere. But it is much calmer now and corpses lying in puddles of blood are not as common a sight as they used to be. Nevertheless, some weeks ago I drove through a neighborhood and saw a couple of men dressed in hooded, white coveralls picking up another kind of corpse: a dead dog. They threw it into a container pulled by a truck and when they took off I started to follow them.

They stopped every so often, picking up another dead dog from the streets and throwing it into the container. They were collecting a lot of dead animals and when I approached the truck, I could see that there was a whole pile of them.

Stopover in Mexico: The train to dreams

By Edgard Garrido

What really happens when a man, or a woman, or even a child, abandons their home motivated by the idea of a better life? How do they imagine it? What do they wish for, what are they missing?

There is violence, overcrowded neighborhoods and gigantic infrastructure on the outskirts of Mexico City but there are also hundreds of thousands of people who walk day and night; different people every day and every night for weeks and months next to the train tracks, trying to jump on a train car filled with merchandise as the train passes. Fear is engraved in their faces and makes their feet heavy. Solitude, hunger, the cold and above all a painful uncertainty, are carried with them. They left behind their homes in a land without miracles and few joys, like the last of the deserts.

In Huehuetoca, 67 km (41 miles) from Mexico City:

Edgard: (photographer) “Hi, what’s your name? Where are you from?”
Carlos: (migrant) “Hi, I’m from Honduras, and you?”
Edgard: “From Chile”
Carlos: “From Chile! How are you Alexis (a reference to Chilean soccer player Alexis Sanchez), have you been to Honduras?”
Edgard: “Yes, I lived in Honduras for several years”
Carlos: “And you’re not afraid of migrants?”
Edgard: “No, why should I?”
Carlos: “Because people say we are thieves and gang members. That we rape girls and that we only do damage.”
Edgard: “But not all of them. From what part of Honduras are you?”
Carlos: “From Tegus… (the capital Tegucigalpa)”
Edgard: “What neighborhood?”
Carlos: “Did you get to know Little Hell?”
Edgard: “Behind the Basilica, going down the staircase. Are you a member of a gang?”
Carlos: “You’re definitely not afraid of migrants! You wanna have a beer?”
Edgard: “How far are you traveling?”
Carlos: “Well, up north, to Uncle Sam (laughs). I’ve been there and they have deported me nine times, but here I go again. I know the tracks like no one else. Come on, let’s have a beer.”

Looking for an American dream

Honduran immigrant Jose Humberto Castro, 26, clings to a freight train on his way to the border with the United States in Orizaba in the state of Veracruz November 3, 2010. Every day, hundreds of Central American immigrants try to cross from Mexico to the United States, according to National Migration Institute of Mexico. REUTERS/Eliana Aponte

When I began this project about immigrants, I found a totally different world, where every immigrant had a unique story but in the end had a common objective: reach the American dream, which for many turned into the American nightmare.

Coming from so much misery, where the governments of their native countries have completely forgotten about them and where opportunities don’t exist, they have little choice but to risk taking the train in search of a better life. But for many the only thing they find is bad luck.

A Honduran immigrant stands on board a freight train on his way to the border with the United States in La Patrona near Cordoba in the state of Veracruz November 3, 2010. Every day, hundreds of Central American immigrants try to cross from Mexico to the United States, according to National Migration Institute of Mexico. REUTERS/Eliana Aponte

The day finally arrived for me to get on the train. It’s a story that requires a lot of time, patience and persistence because you never know when or how many immigrants will get on.

Seventy-two shattered dreams

Carlos, a migrant and three-time deportee, commented to me, “I’ve been there and back, too. I’m a migrant and I want a better future.” Carlos’ brother is one of the 16 Hondurans whose bodies were repatriated on September 1st after being found among the 72 immigrants executed by a drug cartel in Tamaulipas, Mexico, as they neared the border with the U.S.

I couldn’t help thinking of a recent magazine article about 800 expatriate soccer players in Europe and how, according to the author, their story might open doors for other foreign “workers” in this globalized world. It struck me that while many of those athletes were born in the slums of Latin America just like most of the 72 dead migrants, the difference was that their talent made it good business for them to cross borders.

At the same time any number of talented musicians from Peru or Bolivia, artists from Ecuador, craftsmen from Guatemala, farmers from Honduras, or laborers from El Salvador, either die while emigrating towards a better life in the U.S. or survive there with a feeling of well-being thanks to their material gains, but suffering the pain of having been uprooted. They are all migrants just like Carlos who go and return tirelessly, with the conviction that comes from having been propelled from their homes by failing economies. The enormous obstacles make me believe that they won’t have the same luck as those who entertain us with their passes and goals.