Published Apr 16, 2015


A photo essay

Lampedusa, Italy… Melilla, Spain… Oujda, Morocco… Patras, Greece… Calais, France…

Between 2005 and 2011, I traveled to each of these cities, photographing the same story. The story does not change.

In Sicily, immigrants who snuck in from the Maghreb share the 26-square-kilometer island with vacationing tourists. But they never meet. The asylum-seekers are crammed inland, in a kind of island prison where human rights are optional.

In the Spanish cities of Melilla and Ceuta, enclaves on the African continent, migrants arrive from all over black Africa. They travel on foot through the bush and the desert and hide themselves for years in the forests of Morocco, waiting for a chance to cross the border. Pursued by soldiers and subjected to violence, many do not make it. Some try for Mauritania to embark toward the Canary Islands, but here too the door is closed.

In Patras, 500 Afghans hide in another kind of “forest,” as they call it — a large olive grove on the eastern outskirts of the Grecian city. Hunted by police, they wait to escape via trucks bound for Italy. Every two or three days, the police descend on their small settlements, destroying their sheet metal and cardboard shacks, rounding up refugees.

In Calais, on France’s northern coast, young Afghans and Africans have reached the final stage of a long journey, with one last obstacle — the English Channel — between them and a new life in the United Kingdom.

Over the last decade, I have set out to document the inner lives of refugees from around the world who seek new pathways to Europe. Old routes are closing. I spent little time in Morocco because there are soldiers who shoot. Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla are completely blocked by Spanish police. The crossing from Libya to Italy, too, is nearly impossible, and yet hundreds still drown every year — the risk of death preferable to whatever they’d fled.

Boats are crowded, and so memories are among the few belongings that cross the sea.
Food hangs from trees after a storm.
Refugees await transport to the Lampedusa Centro di prima accoglienza, or "reception center."
A map of the United Kingdom is drawn on a wall in Africa.
Women and children warm themselves in a blanket on a dock.
A boy from Afghanistan showers after a dip in the Mediterranean Sea.
An immigrant sleeps in an olive grove in Greece.
On one side is Morocco; on the other is Melilla, Spain.
A boy waits for a chance to reach Italy in his makeshift community outside Patras.
Refugees grasp for shoes distributed by a local NGO.
Immigrants travel by police bus, bound for an Italian detention center.
A billboard in Lampedusa welcomes refugees to Europe.
A refugee in Africa takes shelter from the rain.
Life takes place outside for the forest refugees near Patras.
The border between Spain and Morocco
In Calais, young immigrants take courses in French and English, taught by a volunteer.
Immigrants spend nights in a windowless hut.
A Sudanese man jumps a wall after sleeping near train tracks.
Immigrants are always on alert. The French police regularly raid houses rounding up undocumented Africans.
A pile of ladders that had been used to board boats bound for Lampedusa.
A graveyard of ships that completed the voyage, from the April photo essay, "Unwelcome."

Simone Perolari was born in 1976, in Biella, Italy. He lives and works in Paris.

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