Sergey Ponomarev Europe Migration Crisis
Our world is rapidly changing before our eyes and we aren’t always able to appreciate the scale of these historic changes in the confines of the environments in which we find ourselves. Europe is currently experiencing one of the most significant influxes of migrants and refugees in its history.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians from the Middle East and from Africa have been forced to abandon their homes. War, violence and terror have invaded the peaceful, habitual space of these people and have left it in ruins. Hundreds of thousands of people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan and Eritrea, have been forced onto a long and dangerous path – at the end of which they hope to find a safe home for themselves and their families.
On reaching the shores of Turkey, these people see Europe on the horizon – The Promised Land. Many of them set eyes on the sea for the first time in their lives, but the horror of perishing in the depths of the ocean is easier than the danger that lies at home. In these flotillas of frail rubber rafts, the migrants make their way towards the Greek islands. In these rafts were women, children, and babies, as well as elderly and disabled people. Shaking with fear, they found strength in the promise of a better life, in the hope that a protected, safe space awaited them.
But for many refugees that perilous journey would be their last.“We have to go!”I must have heard that phrase a thousand times: sometimes as a slogan that the crowd would scream at the closed Hungarian-Serbian border, or a mantra the migrants would chant at the fences of Macedonia. They shouted these words with such pleas and prayers because they simply had nothing more to lose.
Their pasts were no more than a memory, immortalized in the bright, family photographs they’d saved on their smartphones. Their whole lives were encapsulated in the few, scattered possessions they’d managed to bring along in their rucksacks. These fragments of broken, far-off land, which each migrant carried with them, are now scattered across Europe.
The refugees continued forwards, entering into a strange, unknown, but sheltered space. Sometimes, they didn’t really know where they were or where exactly they were headed. Forwards, they stumbled along rail tracks and highways, walked along village streets and city avenues. Forwards, they continued on ferries, buses and trains. Sometimes this flood of people was stuck in what we call, bottlenecks. These places were the Croatian city of Tovarnik or Dobova in Slovenia, Roszke in Hungary, Gevgelija in Macedonia, and the Serbian city of Presevo. Here, I witnessed how thousands of people would huddle together in tiny spaces: in train or bus stations; thousands waiting on the roadside to board trains or buses to take them onwards to their unknown destination.
The early stages of this transition into the unknown were chaotic, the refugees’ path was often dictated by the riot police and the army who were trained to deal with the civil unrest of football hooligans. Cordons and borders separated families. And the police remained oblivious to their pleas, cynical and arrogant in their power over the powerless, betraying the hope of the desperate who had made it that far – against all odds – only to suffer the cruellest fate of all.
On the ground, I was constantly recalling the short story The Overcoat, written in the 19th century by the Russian-Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol. The story focuses on the plight of the “little man”: a story of a poor government clerk constantly at odds with an unfair system, grappling with the challenges of rigid bureaucracy and the oppressive, hierarchical social structure of St Petersburg. The plight of the little man has always been an anchor for my work: suffering broadens our perception and experience of what it means to be human; when these people tell their own, little stories – their personal stories of injustice and oppression – a bigger story is told along the way.
Most of the refugees reached Europe. They began to conjure up and build new living spaces for themselves, forever changing the face of Europe itself.
We Europeans now face a choice: to naively try and reorder things that no longer exist, or begin to create our shared, peaceful living space.
About the author
1980 Moscow, Russia
Sergey Ponomarev is a freelance photographer. Before he worked for the Associated Press starting in 2003.
Sergey is best known for his photojournalism works depicting wars and conflicts in Middle East including Syria, Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt and Libya as well as Russian daily life and culture which were published in The New York Times, Paris Match, Figaro, Stern.
Sergey was part of The New York Times team that has won Pulitzer prize in 2016 for reporting on the Refugee Crisis in Europe, also he won many international and domestic photography awards including World Press Photo, Pictures of the Year, Overseas Press Club and others.
Richard Mosse, Heat Maps, 2016
Mandy Barker, Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals, 2015
Saskia Groneberg, Büropflanze, 2012
Beate Gütschow, S Series, 2004-2009
Benny Lam, Subdivided Flats, 2012
Michael Wolf, Tokyo Compression, 2008-2010
Munem Wasif, Land of Undefined Territory, 2014-2015
Pavel Wolberg, Barricades, 2009-2014
Rinko Kawauchi, Ametsuchi, 2012
Sergey Ponomarev, Europe Migration Crisis, 2015
Sohei Nishino, Diorama Map, 2010-2016
Thomas Ruff, ma.r.s, 2013