The current refugee crisis has been the biggest mass movement of asylum seekers since the end of the Second World War, and an important topic in Europe for years now. 

Media narratives often obscure the realities happening on the ground while demonising the people attempting to cross into Fortress Europe. Throughout all of these clashing narratives, in an age of post-truth and racist propaganda, I wanted to gain an in-depth understanding of the journeys made by the men, women and children behind the word ‘refugee’. 

I aimed to move the focus away from the mainstream media’s dehumanisation and victimising of asylum seekers, and to look at their situations as regular people who have been massively let down by a corrupted global system. The situations they found themselves in were direct symptoms of war, messy geo-politics, climate change, resource exploitation, increasing inequality or reasons similar, although these factors remain firmly linked.

Focusing on European border policy and its often unseen repercussions on the ground, I covered a four-month period in Greece from when Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis were passing through into Europe, to when the borders were shut to all nationalities after the announcement of the EU-Turkey deal.  

Sadly, the deal came to nothing, and the stagnation continues to this day. The root causes continue to proliferate as they force people to flee their homes in search of a better life elsewhere. In Greece, tens of thousands of people are still sitting in squalorous military camps, some of them in cages. Many of them have been broken apart from their families who made it to mainland Europe, while facing repeated threats of deportation to volatile countries, particularly the Afghanis. The boats continue to arrive from Turkey and North Africa, albeit with fewer news cameras surrounding the boats on the Greek islands. Clearly, nothing has really been solved in regards to safe-guarding these people’s lives properly, or combating the fundamental reasons as to why they left.

Alongside this, Greece is undergoing its own economic crisis and issues with the EU which drew in worldwide support from various organisations, making Greece a focal point of humanitarian assistance and activists, myself included. My project also looks at the situation from this angle: the journeys made by asylum seekers, but also the self-organisation of activists and refugees alike as the Greek state, and other European nations, continue to fail everyone’s interests.

In the age of Brexit, the EU remains a controversial issue for just about everyone in this country. Criticism of EU border policy isn’t implying that the UK, with a government failing to even take in the small number of 3,000 lone child refugees, would be any better, but this cannot be reason to ignore the EU’s continued maltreatment and neglect of non-European asylum seekers suffering the consequences of the deep structural crisis of neoliberal globalisation.

From the Aegean Sea to the Southern Balkans, this project aims to humanise, but also to explain what these human beings had to endure, and still endure, at the gates of Europe. 

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Zaid Thanoon