JOURNEY THROUGH THE BALKANS
After spending the summer of 2015 talking to Syrian refugees in Berlin about their journeys -- so unimaginable in many ways -- I decided to document their extraordinary passage into Europe. In late September 2015 I flew into Izmir, a large Turkish coastal city where most refugees find their smugglers to provide them with a boat to cross the Aegean Sea. From there I followed their path to the Greek islands, and on through the Balkans.
Much had changed since the summer: whereas the average journey between Syria/Turkey and Northern Europe took around 40 days in late August 2015, the decision of Germany to disregard the Dublin treaty (which regulated responsibility for incoming refugees) made it no longer necessary for refugees to hide and escape fingerprinting. People were migrating openly, and buses and trains became the official means of transport. The journey was still unpredictable and hard, especially on families, but the duration of travel was cut down drastically to around 7-10 days.
Although I had hoped to find a single family that I would travel with, this turned out to be impossible.
Syrians were too afraid about the consequences for their possible returns in the future and the lives of their parents left behind, should they make their names and escape public. Instead my journey followed a pattern similar to that of many travelers, patterned by fluid connections spending sometimes just a few hours, sometimes a few days, with different families and small groups of people.
I realize generalizations are tricky, but I have gotten to know Syrians as some of the most generous and caring people I have ever met. I was offered tea by people who had nothing to spare and exchanged jokes with people who had some of the most traumatizing years of their lives behind them. I saw how Syrians wordlessly carried each others' children when walking got too rough and exhausting, and how existing groups took in individuals that could benefit from the protection of a larger group.
At a time when population movements are repeatedly cast as economic and security threats documenting it seems to me more important than ever to document the people who make up these populations.