Photographers' Blog

Afghanistan – ten years of coverage

Kabul, Afghanistan

By Tim Wimborne

It’s now widely accepted that the latest war in Afghanistan has not gone well. As an intermittent visitor here over the past 10 years, several differences are visible to my western eyes, but I keep realising how much there still is in common with the Kabul of a decade ago.

I had not long been on staff at Reuters when I was given my first assignment in Afghanistan. That was the spring of 2004. Back then, there were perhaps more people of foot in the city and fewer cars. There were certainly not as many cell phones and Internet cafes as there are today.

Now, the country’s presidential election, which is supposed to mark the first democratic power-transfer in Afghanistan’s history, is just a few days away and heightened security ahead of the vote makes a big difference to the way Kabul looks. Security was also an issue in 2004, but the threat of violence was much less great, and I could travel outside the city without too much concern.

But other things haven’t changed. Although there’s more barbed wire and a 3G service has become available, overall infrastructure problems don’t appear to have reduced. As Kabul’s population has boomed, the roads and water supply don’t seem to have advanced at all.

Speaking to locals this week, they talk of the same problems they did back then too: corruption, lack of quality healthcare, and problems finding good schools and jobs for their children. Many still wish to emigrate to Western countries.

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.

Lipstick security

By David Gray

When I was told about this assignment late last Friday in Beijing, the brief was simple – a group of young female Chinese college graduates training to be bodyguards; sounded interesting. Little did I know how interesting it would actually be.

Myself and a Reuters television crew were met in a shopping mall car park by two obviously former military-trained men wearing army fatigues and dark sunglasses. This for starters was an unusual scene in China; a foreigner being driven by what looked like army personnel as shoppers did ‘double-takes’ as we drove away. Thinking we would be driving to a distant, secret location I settled in for the long ride. Five minutes later, we pulled into a driveway. In front of us were soccer fields, complete with mini-goalposts. What were we doing here?

Sitting at the side of one of the small fields was a group of women eating lunch. As we got closer, I could see they weren’t your usual group of young Chinese girls. Looking like catwalk models but dressed in army fatigues, one of our two male escorts barked an order at them. They quickly finished their food and stood up in formation. From a small hut out walked the head instructor. He was short, but noticeably fit and strong. Almost instantly, he had the girls running laps around the soccer field, yelling at them constantly with words of encouragement, but mostly abuse. After a few laps, the girls formed a line again, and one girl was asked why she wasn’t wearing any gloves. I couldn’t make out what her reply was but the next moment she was on the ground doing push-ups. This was going to be an interesting afternoon.

Training for the unforeseen

Recently I was one of a group of journalists who attended a four-day hostile environment training course in Bangkok. I was unsure just what to expect as I’d been told all sorts of tales – mostly scary – about what sort of things would happen to us.

Vivek

The group numbered 14; all of us Reuters journalists, including text correspondents, video producers and photographers. There were five of us from Pictures - Seoul staffer Jo Yong-Hak, Chief Photographer Japan Mike Caronna, Amit Guptafrom Jammu in Indian-administered Kashmir, Pichi Chuang from Taipei and Victor Frailefrom Hong Kong. The level of experience in the group varied wildly, from highly experienced correspondents, producers and photographers, to neophytes like me. 

On the first day of the course, our instructors introduced themselves – they were both ex-Australian SAS personnel, with a wealth of experience of operating in dangerous places including East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.