SCARS AND SOLIDARITY - Bosnia and Herzegovina
SURVIVORS - Spain
FROZEN CORRIDORS - Bosnia and Herzegovina
SEEKING REFUGE IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS - Italy
INVISIBLE BORDER - Greece
THE ONLY CHOICE - Malaysia
STOLEN MOMENTS
·
DEMONSTRATIONS - United Kingdom

FROZEN CORRIDORS

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Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2021

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Gran Canaria (Spain), 2021

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Gran Canaria (Spain), 2021

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China, 2017

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FINDING HOME
Le vite sospese di donne, uomini e bambini lungo la "rotta balcanica"
Bosnia ed Erzegovina 2021

Mostra fotografica itinerante16 dicembre 2022 - 1 gennaio 2023
Torre Mirana, Palazzo Thun, Trento
8 dicembre - 14 dicembre 2022
Liceo Classico Giovanni Prati, Trento
21 novembre - 18 dicembre 2022
Rassegna d'Arte Contemporanea Internazionale “Espansioni”, Hangar Teatri, Trieste
16 novembre - 6 dicembre 2022
Liceo Scientifico Leonardo da Vinci, Trento
21 ottobre - 6 novembre 2022
Antico Caffè San Marco, Trieste


While yearning
for the motherland
we find home
between transits
and parking lots
of countries
which have never
heard our names.
*
- Elona Beqiraj
* Mentre bramiamo / la madre patria / troviamo casa / tra aree di transito / e parcheggi / di Paesi / che non hanno mai / udito i nostri nomi.

Sono migliaia le persone che ogni anno cercano di raggiungere l’Europa seguendo la "rotta balcanica". Vengono prevalentemente da Afghanistan e Pakistan, ma molti sono anche coloro che arrivano da altri Paesi, quali Iran, Iraq o Siria. Fuggono da conflitti, persecuzioni o privazioni e sono alla ricerca di una vita dignitosa. Da quando la rotta ha iniziato ad attraversare la Bosnia ed Erzegovina, nel 2018, il Paese è diventato per loro una fermata obbligata. Uomini, donne e bambini vengono infatti regolarmente respinti quando cercano di attraversare il confine con la Croazia, nel cosiddetto “game”. Sono frequenti i resoconti di respingimenti violenti e la maggior parte delle persone riferisce di aver tentato il “game” molteplici volte. Costretti a vivere per mesi, a volte persino anni, nei corridoi freddi e anneriti degli edifici abbandonati e negli accampamenti di fortuna, in un limbo dove il tempo sembra essersi congelato.

E' possibile acquistare stampe delle foto esposte (e altre) in diversi formati a questa pagina.La mostra è patrocinata da ICS - Consorzio Italiano di Solidarietà.

Print and online press

NGOs (selection)

Dealing with anger through art therapy
Centre for Syrian refugee children with PTSD
Amman, Jordan

© Ben Owen-Browne

I'm an Italian documentary photographer based in London focusing on human rights and migration.I have worked, among other places, in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, where those who have fled conflict and persecution cannot be granted refugee status and are forced to a life in limbo; in the squats in the Balkans where migrant men, women and children get stuck during their journey towards Europe; on the beaches of the Canary Islands, the destination for thousands of people who every year set off in flimsy boats from the coast of West Africa, facing what is probably the most dangerous journey into Europe.I have been commissioned by several NGOs and my work has been published in a range of print and online magazines and newspapers. My photography has won the 2021 Portrait of Humanity award and received an honourable mention in Photography 4 Humanity Global Prize 2020, supported by the Human Rights agency of the United Nations. In 2022 I was shortlisted for the Marilyn Stafford FotoReportage Award and the International Women in Photo Association Award.My exhibition on the Balkan route Finding home is currently touring around Italy.


2022 Marilyn Stafford FotoReportage Award, Shortlisted
2022 International Women in Photo Association Award, Shortlisted
2022 Korridor – Innsbrucker Preis für Dokumentarfotografie, Pre-selection
2021 Portrait of Humanity, British Journal of Photography, Winner
2021 Siena Creative Photo Awards, Shortlisted
2020 Photography 4 Humanity Global Prize, Honourable mention
2019 Reconstruction of Identities Open Call 2019, Finalist
2021 featured in Portrait of Humanity Vol. 3, photographic book by HOXTON MINI PRESS
2020 featured in Staying Home Together, photographic book by Exhibit Around - dotART and F-Stop Magazine
2023 'Effective reporting on migration' workshop, E3J - European Excellence Exchange in Journalism, selected for a funded place
2022 Women Photojournalists of Washington, Scholarship for WPOW annual seminar and portfolio reviews
2022 Arts for Justice Residency (Granada, Spain) by Ulex Project, selected for a funded place

SCARS AND SOLIDARITY
Bosnia and Herzegovina 2021-ongoing

Mara, a 68-year-old Bosnian Serb woman, lives in a border area with Croatia. She does what she can to help the many families living in abandoned houses nearby. “I feel so sorry for them," she says, "it hurts me when I see small children, a lot of them are ill and I have to give them something. I am sorry that I cannot help everybody."

"I know what it means to feel invisible," says Lejla. In 1992, at the beginning of the Bosnian war, she had to flee the country with her family. She recollects taking only one Barbie doll with her, but what was supposed to be just two weeks away from home turned into years of life as refugees. "Now I always make eye contact when I meet a migrant," explains Lejla, “they feel the same as me back then.”The people Lejla refers to, roaming the streets of Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in a temporary limbo, have fled wars, persecution or hardship and are faced with another challenge right on the doorstep of Europe. They are victims of regular and often violent pushbacks when they try to cross the border into Croatia.Official migrants reception centres often offer poor living conditions and are far from the border. Many of the makeshift shelters where migrant people are forced to live are near residential areas, and the reactions to their presence by the local communities are mixed. However, despite the complexity of the situation, in a country still dealing with its own scars, the examples of solidarity are not hard to come by.Asim is a Bosnian Muslim and was held in an internment camp during the war, from which his wife managed to free him through a prisoner exchange. Now his warm smile welcomes many of the migrant people in Bihać, where he has a small shop. "In this world we are all the same. There are some rotten apples," says Asim as he points to the fruit on display in his shop "but the majority of the people are good".Azra, a Bosnian Muslim woman, fought during the Bosnian war in the '90s. After the war finished, she wondered for a long time why she survived. She started rebuilding her family home, which had been bombed, and turned to religion, deciding to devote her life to helping others. Now she collects donations from the locals and distributes food and clothes to those in need, and she has soon become an important presence for many. “Sometimes I think I’m strong and that I can deal with all these emotions,” she says, “sometimes I just cry.”

You can find this story in Solomon as a longform and photo essay and in El Salto. It was shortlisted for the International Women in Photo Association Award and the Marilyn Stafford FotoReportage Award.

SCARS AND SOLIDARITY
Bosnia and Herzegovina 2021-ongoing

Azra, a Bosnian Muslim woman, fought during the Bosnian war in the '90s. After the war finished, she wondered for a long time why she survived. She started rebuilding her family home, which had been bombed, and turned to religion, deciding to devote her life to helping others. Now she collects donations from the locals and distributes food and clothes to those in need, and she has soon become an important presence for many. “Sometimes I think I’m strong and that I can deal with all these emotions,” she says, “sometimes I just cry.”

SURVIVORS
Canary Islands, Spain 2021

Arrival of a Spanish search and rescue vessel with 60 people from two separate boats that had been sighted by a yacht and a merchant vessel, respectively 67 and 5 kilometres south of Gran Canaria. This route requires sailing anywhere between 100 and 2,000 kilometres, depending on where the boats depart along the African coast. Such a wide area makes search and rescue missions extremely hard.

A young man from Senegal looks out at the horizon from the hotel where he is housed after reaching the Gran Canaria. At the end of 2020, several hotels left empty by the pandemic have been used to host migrants. While offering dignified accommodation for those who had endured so much, this also provided some financial relief to a suffering tourism industry. However, after objections by some in the local communities, the Spanish government transferred people to reception camps built ad-hoc.

“I wouldn’t face such a journey even with my 200 horse power engine” a Canarian fisherman said about people arriving from West Africa, on boats normally equipped with engines ten times less powerful.Tens of thousands of people, however, have been risking the arduous journey to Europe from Africa, through the rough waters of the Atlantic Ocean, to get to the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory off the western coast of Africa.Those who make this journey mostly come from Mali, which recently saw two military coups, Senegal, Morocco and Ivory Coast, among others. Besides the toll taken by the pandemic, West African economies based on artisanal fishing have been suffering more and more because of the ever-intensifying industrial fishing off their coasts, due to agreements with Europe and illegal activities by Chinese vessels. At the same time, the tightening of other routes to Europe forced people to search for alternative ways. This has been partially due to Covid-19 measures, but in big part as a result of European efforts to contain irregular migration in the Western and Central Mediterranean.This route entails travelling long distances in small boats with inapt engines. Shipwrecks are common, and engine problems or disorientation can leave people adrift for days or even weeks, probably making this route the most dangerous way to Europe, with 4016 lives lost during 2021 alone, over twice as many than the previous year.After landing, a different nightmare begins for the survivors. The Spanish Government implemented the so called “Plan Canarias”, aimed at keeping people on the islands whilst organising repatriations whenever possible. Several new camps have been built to host people on the islands. Asylum procedures have been delayed, with many waiting to apply for international protection even months after arriving. “Mañana” - tomorrow - resonates outside the reception centre of Las Raices, in Tenerife - it’s the Spanish word that everyone knows here, as it’s the answer they receive to everything.The feeling of being trapped and the uncertainty for the future cannot but exacerbate the trauma of what people had already to endure.

You can find this story in Al Jazeera English and Altreconomia.

FROZEN CORRIDORS
Bosnia and Herzegovina 2021


Visit my touring exhibition from Bosnia and Herzegovina FINDING HOME.

A young man from Pakistan looks towards the border he has already tried to cross 13 times in Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Along the corridors of the abandoned buildings and in the shelters where the people on the move live in Bosnia and Herzegovina, time has frozen. Thousands of people try to reach Europe along the Balkan route every year. They are coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria...fleeing wars and persecutions, looking for a dignified life.Young men represent the majority of those following this route, but there are many families with young children and elderly too. After the formal closure of the Balkan route in March 2016, people were left with no other choice than to pursue irregular ways of entry. Whilst originally most went through Serbia, the tightening of the borders along this route meant that since 2018, more people started to transit from Bosnia and Herzegovina instead.The country has become a forced stop for them. In fact, people regularly report being victims of pushbacks when they try to cross the border into Croatia, and thus into Europe, what is referred to as the "game". Money, phones and personal belongings are normally subtracted by the police or special forces involved. It is not uncommon to hear that people are deprived of their shoes too, thus having to walk back barefoot for hours until they reach their shelter, sometimes even in the unbearably cold Bosnian winter. Very often the pushbacks are violent and involve beatings and the use of dogs. Most people report trying several times, even dozens of times, before being able to reach a European country where they can apply for international protection.This means months, or even years, stuck in limbo, which cannot but exacerbate the trauma of what people had to endure. They come back, each time, to the same corridors, in a limbo where time is suspended.

You can find this story in Solomon. It was shortlisted at Siena Creative Photo Awards 2021.

Nisar Alì comes from Pakistan, here they call him the German, as he can speak this language. "Now is not the time for dreaming" he tells me. He first needs to reach Europe, get his papers and a job to help his family. Azizullah is a young boy from Afghanistan. He has fled his country due to the Talibans. His dream is to reach Sweden and become a journalist, as one of those he could hear at the radio back home. Elena is a woman from Ukraine who lived for 20 years in the Netherlands, before being deported back. She is now following the Balkan route to reach the country she called home for so long, and dreams of writing a book with all what she has learned about migration during this journey. Mohamed used to work as a tailor back home in Afghanistan and he tells me that hopefully I'll take a good photo of him one day, when he'll have made himself a nice suit in Italy. Maha and Fadi are a Palestinian couple and they were living in a refugee camp in Syria. They just want to finally find a place where their children can be safe and go to school.

SEEKING REFUGE IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS
Italy 2020

Faces and feet telling the story of a long journey. Walking for hundreds of kilometers across mountains and rivers. The fear of getting caught. The repeated pushbacks at the borders. The relief of having made it to Italy, mixed with the uncertainty of what to expect. The commitment of those who every night take care of the people in transit from Trieste. Every night tirelessly on the street to treat the feet, fill the stomachs and change the old shoes for a new pair.I met these young men in Trieste, at the end of the Balkan route, during their journey in search of asylum in Europe. Access to temporary shelters here, like elsewhere, has been limited due to COVID-19 measures. This means that people in transit, like them, have been left with no other choice than to sleep rough. The impact of the pandemic has been, and still is, very hard on those seeking asylum. Borders have been further tightened, with increasing reports of pushbacks. Alongside this, the pandemic has fuelled negative feelings towards migrants, accused by some of spreading the virus. This has worsened the unwelcoming climate that people seeking refuge are often faced with.Every day the volunteers from Linea d’Ombra and Strada Si.Cura are helping the people in transit from Trieste with the basic necessities after such a journey, but most importantly showing them that there is someone who cares. An asylum seeker in Calais once told me, about the NGOs, that even more than the practical help, what is really important is being there to offer a friendly smile...creating a little corner of humanity.

You can find this story in Photojournalism Hub and Ekō magazine.

INVISIBLE BORDER
Greece 2019

Dimitri in a red dress, her favourite colour, to celebrate St. Dimitri's day. Her hands show her grace. Her eyes, the scars and the pride of her battle.

Dimitri proudly looking at the religious icons she had filled the wall of her bedroom with.

Dimitri was born in the small fishing village of Skála Sikaminéas, on the Greek island of Lesvos, and, at the age of 14, she told her parents that she was a girl.She struggled to be accepted throughout her life and experienced tough times, living in a mental institution during her childhood, as well as years of homelessness in Athens. She had to fight for her right to cross the invisible border of gender identity. After her parents passed away, she started wearing women's clothes.Dimitri told me she now feels comfortable with her identity and appearance. In the little sunny harbour of Skála, she walks with her head held high. Dimitri lives in the house she grew up in, where her battle began. She covered the walls with religious images, as she is very devout, like her mother. She loves opera, especially Maria Callas, and often plays it very loud, filling the calm air of Skála with melancholy.When I asked her why she often looks sad, she said it's because of all the horrible things happening in the world, and she wasn't just referring to what she learns from the news. There is in fact another story, hidden in the background, one of forced migration, which Dimitri can witness first-hand. The invisible border between Turkey and Greece lies in the water just a few kilometres behind her. Thousands of people risk their life to cross it every year, fleeing conflict or persecution. Women, children and men, seeking refuge in Europe, land on this island, often on the shores of her very own village.

This story has won Portrait of Humanity 2021 and it received an honorable mention in Photography 4 Humanity Global Prize 2020.
It was featured in The Times, in CNN Style, and in the book Portrait of Humanity Vol 3 by Hoxton Mini Press. It was exhibited at PHOTO 2021 (Melbourne, Australia), Belfast Photo Festival 2021, and Indian Photo Festival 2021.
It was also selected for the Pride Photo Exhibition 2023, starting in Amsterdam and travelling across the country for a year.

June 2021: Our society has failed you, beautiful candid soul. Skala will not be the same without your Maria Callas filling the air with melancholy.

FAMADIHANA - RECONNECTING WITH THE DEAD
Madagascar 2015

Malagasy people have a very unique relationship with death, far from what we are used to in the Western world.Famadihana is a ritual to celebrate the ancestors, traditional to the Merina people, in the central highlands of Madagascar. The celebration starts at home with a treat, fat pork meat (bemanaka). Then the whole village joins the family on their journey to the crypt of their ancestors, where the head of the family gives a speech in front of the assembled crowd. The bodies are exhumed and carried out of the tomb on straw mats. Family members raise them above their heads and dance to the music of flute players. The dead are updated with recent family news, some are even given a swig of their favourite liquor.The ritual is all about reconnecting, in a joyous rather than mournful way. Before being returned to their tombs, the bodies are wrapped in new shrouds and tied up. The sound of cloths ripping overlaps with the chatter and the live music, in a solemn and emotional yet very festive atmosphere.

THE ONLY CHOICE
Malaysia 2019

A small flat in a 15 storey building in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has become home to Zhara, Malika and Hussain, three young siblings from Afghanistan. They are Hazaras and they had to flee their home country, where Hazara people are still facing ethnic and religious discrimination and persecution.In Kuala Lumpur, Hussain provides for his sisters by working in a bakery. He is the eldest. “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.” These are his words on a social media profile, showing his resilience. Malika, the youngest, is really good with languages and often acts as an interpreter from Farsi to English for the others. She teaches English in kindergarten, in the local community centre for Afghan refugees, to kids aged four to five. ‘They are cute, but also a bit naughty’, she says laughing. She has the most hilarious and sweet laugh you could imagine. Zhara is a beautiful young woman, with a more composed personality than her sister. She cooks delicious Afghan dishes that remind her of home, as she is not very fond of the local cuisine. Zhara dreams of one day becoming a doctor.

Malaysia however didn't sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and it doesn't recognise the refugee status. Yet there are 160 thousand registered refugees in the country, and many more unregistered. They are mostly Rohingya refugees who escaped from Myanmar, but other nationalities are present too - Syrians, Yemenis and Afghans amongst them.They aren’t allowed to work and cannot attend state schools, while the cost of private ones is too high for them to afford. They can only rely on UNHCR-issued ID cards. Under Malaysian law they are liable to arrest or deportation, but showing this card provides some protection. Since they aren’t allowed to work legally they have no choice but working off the books, with very low wages and no protection. What is worse, if the police find them working, they can be arrested or sometimes have to bribe them in exchange for turning a blind eye. It's a limbo similar to asylum seekers awaiting a decision in Europe, the difference being, for them it will last until Malaysia changes its policy relating to refugees. The chance of relocation to a third country that could provide asylum is very slim. The USA being the main country of resettlement from Malaysia, the chances have recently become even slimmer due the policies implemented by the Trump administration.This is Zhara, Malika, Hussain and many others’ everyday reality. Trapped between a painful past and a bleak future, far from home, they are relying on their incredible resilience.Names have been changed to protect people's identity.

STOLEN MOMENTS

I often, almost instinctively, find myself capturing mental snapshots of what I see. Sometimes I also take an actual photo!"Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of his own self." Marcel Proust

DEMONSTRATIONS
London, United Kingdom