Photographers' Blog

Romanian migrants build new lives in Britain

London, England
By Luiza Ilie, photos by Luke MacGregor

Poverty and a lack of jobs have driven millions of Romanian workers abroad in search of a better life, helping fuel an anti-immigration backlash in wealthier Western countries that could hurt governments in upcoming European parliament elections. Reuters interviewed immigrants in the United Kingdom and the families of those left behind in Romania.

For the main story, click here.

The following are photos and scenes of some Romanians who have built a new life in the United Kingdom, and who mostly said they faced remarkably little discrimination despite the media frenzy that marked their arrival. The UK was one of six European Union countries that lifted its restrictions on migrants from Romania and Bulgaria at the start of the year.

Father Ioan Nazarcu. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Father Ioan Nazarcu
On Sundays, Romanian migrants in the UK fill up churches for Orthodox mass. At the biggest church in downtown London, up to 400 people fill the pews. They mostly dress modestly and look tired, holding onto toddlers while girls in pink sashes chase each other.

In Luton, 30 miles north of London, up to 150 adults and children show up for Father Ioan Nazarcu’s Orthodox mass on Sunday in a church rented by the hour from its Anglican owners. A lunch follows, with the entire congregation contributing food.

“Our community is made of young families and most of them have children,” said Father Nazarcu, who also serves as a social worker in a retirement home near Luton.

Family, soccer and God

by Rickey Rogers

It was around the time that Brazil was beginning construction projects to host the 2014 World Cup four years ago, that a massive earthquake devastated Haiti’s capital. The quake killed over 200,000 people and left few Haitians unaffected in some way. That disaster, coupled with the attraction of a World Cup country and the fact that Brazilians were already familiar to Haitians as UN peacekeepers patrolling their streets, initiated a new route south for migrants trying to escape the difficult situation. That route starts in Haiti passing overland to the Dominican Republic, by plane to Ecuador or Peru, and overland to the Peru-Brazil border where even today there are hundreds of Haitians awaiting visas.

Photographer Bruno Kelly was on an assignment to photograph the dozen or so Haitians working at the Arena Amazonia stadium in Brazil’s Amazonian capital, Manaus, when he met immigrant Milice Norassaint. Milice’s story touched Bruno, and they became friends as Bruno photographed him at work and in his daily life. Bruno asked Milice for his wife’s phone back in Haiti, and Bruno gave it to colleague Marie Arago in Port-au-Prince.

What resulted is a story about a family divided by need, but united through their faith.

Stateless in their own country

La Romana, Dominican Republic

By Ricardo Rojas

“I have no country. What will become of me?” said Dominican-born Blemi Igsema, 27, standing with relatives outside the family’s wooden shack in Batey La Higuera, near La Romana, the heart of the Dominican Republic’s sugar cane industry.

Blemi’s grandparents were Haitian immigrants who came to cut sugar cane decades ago.

“We are Dominicans – we have never been to Haiti. We were born and raised here. We don’t even speak Creole,” she said, referring to Haiti’s native tongue.

From Aleppo to no man’s land

Miratovac, Serbia

By Marko Djuirca

I had been thinking how cold it was for this time of year to need both my hoodie and my jacket. A cold, strong wind blew over the hills of no-man’s land separating Serbia from Macedonia. I stood quietly in total darkness for an hour or so until the border patrol officer, looking through his thermal camera, said: “Here they are, I think there must be 40 of them!”

Every year, the Serbian border police catches more than 10,000 migrants from Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, who are trying to reach Serbia illegally. They come from Turkey, through Greece to Macedonia and Serbia before they reach Hungary and with it, the borderless Schengen travel zone.

When I decided to follow this story, I had no idea how strong an impact it would leave on me.

The parents left behind

Warsaw, Poland

By Peter Andrews

I remember my mother taking me to the airport on June 10, 1981. In theory, everyone knew I was leaving for three weeks, but both of us really knew that I would not be coming back. I was nineteen at the time and wanted to see a different world, a world outside the so called Iron Curtain.

My mother didn’t show sadness but I could see tears in her eyes when she said good bye to me. I saw her twice in ten years. Once after four years, when she visited my new home, Canada, and later in Germany when the Berlin Wall was coming down. Our contact was scarce. In those days, it was very difficult to call out of Poland, especially after martial law was introduced. Later, when martial law was lifted, it was a bit easier, but still there were only land lines. No mobile phones, no Internet, no Skype – only written letters put inside envelopes, with a postage stamp and sent from the post office. It was only when the Soviet Union collapsed and the so-called evil empire ceased to exist that I was able to see her freely. It is only when you are not able to see your parents often that one notices how age works on people.

At the time when I was leaving Poland no one knew that ten years down the road the world’s geo-political situation would change and that eastern European countries would join NATO and later, in 2004, the European Union would allow many young people to travel freely, without any restrictions or prosecution.

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.

“I’ve never been in an elevator”

Havana, Cuba

By Desmond Boylan

Jesus Salgado, “Chinito”, was fished out of shark infested waters from a frail, sinking boat by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol near the Bahamas, back in 2003.  He had finally made his illegal exit from Cuba after a lot of planning, and even after spending a year in prison when a previous plan to escape was thwarted by the authorities. In those days, just thinking of leaving the country illegally was heavily penalized.

Salgado was not returned to the Republic of Cuba by the Americans as he would have been under today’s legislation. Under the U.S. government’s “wet foot, dry foot policy” in force today, he would have been sent home or to a third country since he was found at sea.

Salgado was returned to Cuban soil, but not in the political sense. He was taken to the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base on the eastern tip, where he remained for 20 months working as a mechanic for wages which he saved.  He was then allowed to leave to Honduras, with the same final goal – to reach the U.S.

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.