Photographers' Blog

The immigrant behind the eyes

Safi, Malta

By Darrin Zammit Lupi

“Go get 13i38 from warehouse 2,” barks the army NCO to his subordinates. We know his name now, but the military personnel providing security in the detention center continue to refer to him, as with all detainees, by the reference number given to him when he arrived here.

He is Mohammed Ilmi Adam, a 17-year-old, from Mogadishu, Somalia. The piercing gaze which made him an iconic figure is gone; he’s just like so many other teenagers of his age, eyes flicking from side to side, rarely making eye contact. Slouching on a chair in a small office at the army’s Safi barracks detention center, he looks dejected, submissive, sullen, lost, and indifferent to our presence.

Mohammed arrived in Malta in the early hours of July 10, after being rescued from a tightly-packed rubber dinghy along with 67 other, mostly Somali, immigrants. He arrived hours after a political storm blew up when the Maltese government threatened to deport a group of new arrivals without giving them the opportunity to apply for asylum, only backing down at the eleventh hour when the European Court of Human Rights issued an urgent injunction to block the action.

Though he was safe, at least for the time being, from the threatened pushback, the picture of his apprehensive and piercing eyes quickly became a symbol of the uncertain future he and others like him faced. Soon after I photographed him arriving in Malta and realized the impact the picture was having on many people, I set about trying to identify him.

Visiting two detention centers on an organized media tour nine days after his arrival, I started showing his picture to a group of Somalis I came across sitting in a window. It wasn’t long before someone recognized him, and dashed off to get him. Once he appeared in the window, I immediately knew I’d found my man, though he didn’t immediately recognize himself in the picture. However, hampered by an insurmountable language barrier, and being told by guards to get a move on, meant I couldn’t actually do anything then.

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.

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.

Russia’s untouchables

By Denis Sinyakov

I don’t remember a time when Moscow hasn’t been flooded with them – migrants from Central Asia.

When I moved here in 1997 they were already here. They had started appearing more than 20 years ago, the time when the Soviet Union was falling apart. Some fled civil wars, but more often they were escaping the awful economic situation in their homelands. Not exactly an escape, but they came to make some money, leaving their families at home. The economic situation in Russia even now isn’t enviable, at the beginning of the 1990’s it was woeful, but none the less better than there.

Muscovites have got used to living with them, used to regarding them as low qualified workers, as street sweepers and lorry loaders, cheap muscle on building sites. People are used to calling them “churki” and “sheep” and not finding those words in any way offensive.

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.