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.