In the Cold

by Ksenia Diodorova

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“We are taught like this. Doesn’t matter where you were born. Whatever place or color. Doesn’t matter black or white. Everywhere and always all is the same—people have to respect each other” –Juma

AFTER TAJIKISTAN'S civil war in the mid-nineties-and the economic collapse that followed the USSR’s disintegration—many Tajik people found themselves in a state of flux. Electricity, coal, and gas supplies had been cut, thus forcing many factories—the primary source of employment—to shutter. With no more jobs, the relatively high cost of living in Tajikistan forced people to look elsewhere for employment. For many, economic emigration to Russia was the obvious answer.

Bartang Valley is one of Tajikistan's most isolated regions. In winter, snowfall cuts off the valley from the rest of the world. Roads are often blocked, electricity supplies are sporadic, and only one village has mobile phone reception. Tajikistan. Bardara kishlak.  

Bartang Valley is one of Tajikistan's most isolated regions. In winter, snowfall cuts off the valley from the rest of the world. Roads are often blocked, electricity supplies are sporadic, and only one village has mobile phone reception. Tajikistan. Bardara kishlak.

 

Today Russian cities large and small play host to Tajik immigrants living under extremely hard conditions. It is a commonly held misbelief that immigration strangles our cities, our schools, our subway cars. Actually, people really know very little about the life and the world migrants come from. That was one of the key points in my project—to let Russians learn something about the culture and nature of these people in order to get a bit closer to them. The popular myth is that immigration is a flood, and we are drowning in it. But the real crisis of immigration is not limited to the countries where migrants settle. The true scale of immigration can only be understood by appreciating its source.

In The Cold is a story about migrant laborers in Russia, and the parallel lives of friends and family members they’ve left behind in Tajikistan.

The goal of this project is to shift the perception of Tajik migrants in Russia by exposing unseen aspects of their experience in the urban melting pot. I hope the project can also help develop new initiatives in social and financial structures that work to support migrants. One of the main aims of my partner, the Aga Khan Foundation, is to develop economic, educational, and environmental programs for Ismaili Muslim communities in the Gorno-Badakhshan region of Tajikistan. Our collaboration was designed to support migrants from the area establishing their rights in Russia by fostering multiculturalism, social integration, and Russian tolerance towards immigration.

In January 2014 I traveled to Tajikistan to photograph life in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region—homeland for many of the Tajik migrants living in Russia. Returning to Moscow, I sought out the emigrant children and close relatives of my subjects. About twenty-four families separated by the migration process took part in the multimedia photo project.

This story is about Tajik migrant workers living at home and abroad. About the kishlaks where they were born. About their culture and traditions. I wanted to convey a sense of the duality of immigrant experience: The fundamental longing for home and family, blood and soil, and the variances of coldness and warmth that define those in search of a better future.

Faridun works at a carwash outside Moscow. In January, his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The next time he sees her, she will be two years old. Russia. Moscow.

Faridun works at a carwash outside Moscow. In January, his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The next time he sees her, she will be two years old. Russia. Moscow.

Whoever Saves a Life

by Sebastiano Tomada

THIS IS a story that paints a frank and troubling humanitarian portrait of the effects of war, and the many kinds of people who get swept up in its path.

More than three years after the start of the Syrian war, the country's second-largest city, Aleppo, is nearly a ghost town. Whole swaths of the city are abandoned and lie in ruin. The civilians who remain in the city live a life of fear and grief as their families, friends, and neighbors are killed and wounded by President Bashar al-Assad’s indiscriminate campaign to regain control of the city.

Members of the Civil Defense team take a moment to reflect after a grueling day where many of their comrades were injured. June 22, 2014.

Members of the Civil Defense team take a moment to reflect after a grueling day where many of their comrades were injured. June 22, 2014.

 

The latest wave of this attack brought with it an intense aerial barrel-bombing offensive. These crude, highly inaccurate devices can wipe out entire buildings and are often dropped in quick succession, presumably with the aim of targeting the men attempting to rescue victims of the first explosion. Among those rescuers are members of the Civil Defense Team, also know as the ‘White Helmets’. They are volunteer rescue workers in the most dangerous place on earth. Each day more than 50 bombs and mortars land on some neighborhoods in Syria. Many are rusty barrels filled with nails and explosives, rolled out the back of government helicopters onto homes, schools and hospitals.

The White Helmet volunteers have saved 10,221 lives in the past year alone—and this number is growing daily.

After covering the conflict in Syria for the past 3 years, I directed my attention to the often forgotten humanitarian aspect of the war. It was during this time that I came across the Civil Defense Team and, with the support of The Syria Campaign and activists on the ground, I was able to document their everyday plight in the besieged city of Aleppo. The material gathered (both video and photos) was used to support the non-profit mission of The Syria Campaign in capturing the attention of the public and demanding more from governments, institutions, and the media, all while celebrating those leading the humanitarian responses to the Syrian conflict.

The bullet riddled rescue truck used by the Civil Defense Team in Aleppo, Syria. June 18, 2014.

The bullet riddled rescue truck used by the Civil Defense Team in Aleppo, Syria. June 18, 2014.

A young rescue worker, and member of the Civil Defense Team, reacts to a nearby air strike by the Syrian Regime in Aleppo. June 18, 2014.

A young rescue worker, and member of the Civil Defense Team, reacts to a nearby air strike by the Syrian Regime in Aleppo. June 18, 2014.

Civil Defense members rescue a man who had been trapped inside his home after a barrel bomb collapsed it. June 20, 2014

Civil Defense members rescue a man who had been trapped inside his home after a barrel bomb collapsed it. June 20, 2014

Civil Defense and Free Syrian Army fighters join forces in search for survivors amongst the rubble of a collapsed building that was struck by a regime airstrike. June 22, 2014.

Civil Defense and Free Syrian Army fighters join forces in search for survivors amongst the rubble of a collapsed building that was struck by a regime airstrike. June 22, 2014.

Members of the Civil Defense team remove the dead body of an 8 year old child from a car destroyed by a regime barrel bomb. June 19, 2014.

Members of the Civil Defense team remove the dead body of an 8 year old child from a car destroyed by a regime barrel bomb. June 19, 2014.

A critically injured member of the Civil Defense Team is treated for his shrapnel wounds inside a make-shift hospital. June 22, 2014.

A critically injured member of the Civil Defense Team is treated for his shrapnel wounds inside a make-shift hospital. June 22, 2014.

Civil Defense rescue volunteers sleep in the basement of their new headquarters, a former school. June 21, 2014.

Civil Defense rescue volunteers sleep in the basement of their new headquarters, a former school. June 21, 2014.

While waiting for a regime attack, Civil Defense volunteers gather outside their headquarters in the destroyed neighborhood of Hanano. June 19, 2014.

While waiting for a regime attack, Civil Defense volunteers gather outside their headquarters in the destroyed neighborhood of Hanano. June 19, 2014.

In the Old City of Aleppo, large tarps are hung between buildings along the front line, limiting the view of regime snipers who have been targeting FSA fighters as well as civilians. June 21, 2014.

In the Old City of Aleppo, large tarps are hung between buildings along the front line, limiting the view of regime snipers who have been targeting FSA fighters as well as civilians. June 21, 2014.

Homophobia in Russia

by Mads Nissen

NOW AND then something happens that changes everything.

A single incident that unfolds in front of me and I know I’m no longer just a silent eyewitness with a camera. From now it’s no longer just a story. From now it’s personal.

On a bright summer day, June 2013, in Saint Petersburg, something like this happened. “Are you a faggot? Are you a fucking faggot?”, a young man with a military style haircut and a sporty outfit screams at Pavel.

Kirill Fedorov, 21, is bleeding from his face after national-conservative extremists surrounded, beat and kicked him and his friends while they were attending a Gay Pride rally in St. Petersburg. The group of friends try to stick together and seek cover behind the police as stones and eggs are thrown at them. The rally was declared illegal under the law banning “gay propaganda” and Kirill Fedorov and the other LGBT-activists were arrested and later taken to court.

Kirill Fedorov, 21, is bleeding from his face after national-conservative extremists surrounded, beat and kicked him and his friends while they were attending a Gay Pride rally in St. Petersburg. The group of friends try to stick together and seek cover behind the police as stones and eggs are thrown at them. The rally was declared illegal under the law banning “gay propaganda” and Kirill Fedorov and the other LGBT-activists were arrested and later taken to court.

Pavel Lebedev is 23 years old. He is wearing an orange shirt and an insecure smile. I met Pavel the previous day when he told me how he made the tough decision to come out of the closet. And he told me about the price he had to pay for following his heart. Now, he was being yelled at once again.

Pavel calmly answers the question: “Yes, I am gay…”.

He barely gets to finish the word “gay” before the first punch hits him. The young man in the sporty outfit has obviously waited for this situation. Filled with hate, he cannot hold himself back any longer, and tries to give Pavel another punch in his face.

I’m outraged. How can this be happening? Today? Punching, kicking and spitting at a gentle and shy young man like Pavel, simply because he is more attracted to men than women.

It’s unbelievable. It’s not fair. And something needs to be done! But instead of getting involved in the fistfight, I keep my camera in my hands—and I’m not letting it go before this story has been told to the rest of the world.

Since that summer day I’ve been dedicating myself to tell the story of modern homophobia in Russia. Not only the violent attacks, but also the new, so-called anti-gay law and the everyday stigma LGBT-persons in Russia are facing.

Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) is becoming more and more difficult in Russia, where sexual minorities are facing legal and social discrimination, harassment, and even violent hate crime attacks from religious and neo-nazi groups. In June 2013, Russia’s homophobia moved from the streets into the country’s legislation as the State Duma unanimously adopted an anti-gay law banning "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations".

Because of this severe stigma, and continuing violent assaults on individuals and organizations, the LGBT community in Russia is often very suspicious and cautious about letting strangers in. Because of this, my collaboration with the leading LGBT NGO, Coming Out, has been essential. Not only did they help me to understand the many aspects of Russian homophobia, but every time something new happened they would let me know, and I could easily fly to Saint Petersburg and photograph the latest development—like the portrait of Dmitry Chizhevskiy, who’s left eye was destroyed after he was the victim of a hate-crime.

As the story was published around the world, the activists from Coming Out would share it on social media. They told me how much it means when someone takes them seriously. When someone is witnessing all they have to go through and tries to involve the rest of the world in their struggle for freedom.

Back of the Yards

 by Megan E. Doherty

BEYOND THE headlines of the notoriously high gun and gang violence in Chicago, there is the debilitating loss of human capital in many communities of the city’s South and West Sides. For the last 28 months, I have been documenting the efforts of one man—“Brother" Jim Fogarty—who works to help people in the Back of the Yards reinvest in themselves and the transformation of their neighborhood.

We're on the 9th floor of a building in the Dearborn Homes housing project visiting Joyce, who has AIDS and is dying of terminal cancer. This one she can't beat. She called Brother Jim and asked him to help her go over some paperwork. “Final Wishes” planning guides. Where does she want her funeral? Who will carry her coffin? She breaks down in tears, her body convulsing through the sobs. She leaves the room multiple times to collect herself. In a moment of quiet reflection, Br. Jim looks stressed.

We're on the 9th floor of a building in the Dearborn Homes housing project visiting Joyce, who has AIDS and is dying of terminal cancer. This one she can't beat. She called Brother Jim and asked him to help her go over some paperwork. “Final Wishes” planning guides. Where does she want her funeral? Who will carry her coffin? She breaks down in tears, her body convulsing through the sobs. She leaves the room multiple times to collect herself. In a moment of quiet reflection, Br. Jim looks stressed.

Jim is the last remaining member of a small street ministry, Brothers and Sisters of Love, which tends to those involved in—and victimized by—gang violence and urban poverty. When I met him, I knew that I wanted to document both the work he was doing in the community as well as the lives of the people he was engaging with. When I began walking the streets with Br. Jim in February 2013, he introduced me to the neighborhood and its residents, and I have been following, photographing, and walking with him every week since.

I wanted to do more than show the harshness of this place. I wanted to show how people here are struggling to achieve some kind of redemption; and what does this look like in Back of the Yards?

I asked Jim to elaborate:

"One of the problems is that for 150 years, successful projects, programs and infrastructures that have worked in immigrant communities have not worked with poor African Americans. A large part of that is due to racism, exploitation, and the destruction of infrastructures decades ago. The best friend of the African Americans, since the time of President Lincoln, has been the federal government—and the government has not been a particularly good friend. I guess what I am saying is that good will in challenging people's default perspective has not been working, and I don't see it changing any time soon. Most people who I can challenge on their default perspective are people who walk with me in the neighborhoods."

My work really isn't much when compared with what Brother Jim does—he’s been challenging people's default perspective for over 30 years. Unfortunately, many people have a particular fear of poor African Americans. And too often our only exposure or contact is "when things go wrong.” One thing we can learn from Brother Jim is that remaining present can engender empathy. We just have to put ourselves out there.

Gray Brick Road

by Dmitry Markov

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THIS IS the story of Ruslan, a single disabled father raising his sick son, Vitya, in the Russian city of Pskov. Ruslan’s daily life is complicated. Restricted to a wheelchair, his time is predominantly occupied by concerns of transportation and the struggle to provide food and safety for young Vitya. The family is really on the edge.

One of the major problems for Ruslan is that most of the city space is not accessible. Daily, he has to travel 10-12 kilometers from his home to the city market – crossing railways, tackling pavement, curbs, and potholes.

One of the major problems for Ruslan is that most of the city space is not accessible. Daily, he has to travel 10-12 kilometers from his home to the city market – crossing railways, tackling pavement, curbs, and potholes.

By Russian law, in the event that a father fails to perform his duties – sending his child to school and applying for disability status – he may be restricted in his parental rights and his child may be taken into state custody. Unfortunately, the system does not provide disabled people with daily care and support at home to alleviate this problem. Nonetheless, there are non-profit organizations and individuals in the city who have taken over these functions. In general, this is a commentary on the status of socially disadvantaged groups in Russia, where private groups are often forced to fill in when the state has fallen short.

I do volunteer work with disabled children for an NGO called Rostok. First and foremost, I am stunned by this story. Looking at a lonely, ill person doing his best to take care of his son, I am impressed by Ruslan’s determination to survive and provide for Vitya. I think his story is a good example for healthy people to understand what it is they take for granted.

The social exclusion of disabled people is an important issue, and a difficult one to overcome in Russia. On one hand, most people don’t consider a disabled person as being on equal footing. People donate money to feel good about “solving the problem”, but they do not think about the depth or complexity of the situation. Discussions of human rights to work and education are presented only as abstract and immaterial concepts, when in fact they are fundamental to the well being of any person, disabled or not. On the other hand, people with disabilities are not particularly keen to change this. Ruslan, who grew up in a wheelchair, does not seek self improvement. He does not look for work or to advance his education. These prevailing attitudes only help to position disabled people as victims. Self perpetuating, they do not address the root causes of, or fundamental solutions to, the social stigmatization of disabled people.

This story’s focus is on the relationship between a father and son who are living in very difficult and limited circumstances. It is not intended as a study on poverty or marginalized communities (the tragic background of Vitya and Ruslan's situation only reinforces the impression that we should care). But what can we say about a man who has lived 40 years in a wheelchair? I think Ruslan’s case can only be discussed in the context of his basic rights and the appropriate level of social support. However, in respect to his son, Vitya, we can expect some progress. Increasingly in the city, there are new services for people with disabilities. Society is gradually learning to accept these people and, as with Rostock and the other aid organizations, we just have to keep moving in the right direction. Perhaps the changes are not so significant for each individual case, but eventually we will reach a fundamental shift. If we keep working things will begin to change.

Then the Sky Crashed Down Upon Us

by Annalisa Natali Murri

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POST TRAUMATIC stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious, potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster or major accident. Most people who experience such events will recover, but people with PTSD can continue to live with severe mental injury for months or years following the incident. This project aims to depict the heavy psychological pain and distress suffered by survivors of 2013’s Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh—a disaster which claimed 1,129 lives and left over 2,500 injured survivors.

There are still many victims whose bodies were never found. At the Rana Plaza disaster site people continued digging with bare hands—even after a year has passed—to find forgotten traces among the ruins. There are dozens of people, mostly relatives of the victims, who honor the memory of their loved ones daily by wandering around the remains of the building.

There are still many victims whose bodies were never found. At the Rana Plaza disaster site people continued digging with bare hands—even after a year has passed—to find forgotten traces among the ruins. There are dozens of people, mostly relatives of the victims, who honor the memory of their loved ones daily by wandering around the remains of the building.

The idea behind the project was to draw out the invisible, psychological aftermath of Rana Plaza by focusing on the people’s struggle to conduct a normal life after the tragedy. I knew I wanted to bring it to a different level than that of pure reality—to lead viewers to something hidden and less immediate—but to do so I would have to re-create in my images some sense of the internal trauma that these people are still living with. The pictures were created by shooting double exposure portraits of survivors, victims’ relatives, and first responders, then merging the frames into a layered depiction of person and place. I wanted to give shape to each subject’s fears and memories by projecting their interior chaos and disorientation onto the landscape.

What guided me in this documentary work was the desire to give voice to those who may be considered the silent victims of the Rana Plaza tragedy. Many attempts have been made to bring aid to the survivors, with government and NGO’s providing monetary compensation and medical support to those who were physically injured. But those benefits should not be limited to victims who suffered physical harm alone: one year after the tragedy, about 50% of survivors are now afflicted with intangible and invisible wounds. Many people continue to suffer panic attacks, memory loss, and even hallucinations. Trauma and mental disorder is a natural response to a disaster like this, but some survivors are plagued by the sound of voices asking for help, or visions of their dead coworkers lying beside them. The intrusion of the past into the present is one of the main problems confronting trauma survivors. If not properly addressed and resolved, this persistence of lived trauma can evoke suicidal tendencies.

This project aims to highlight the need and importance of adequate psychological rehabilitation for everyone affected by tragedy. It is important that survivors recover completely, and return to living a normal life. I hope that this work will help raise awareness of the psychological aftermath of disaster, and aid global and local communities in acknowledging the widespread affliction of PTSD. This is of fundamental importance, especially in areas where recognition of mental distress and acceptance of treatment are stigmatized by superstition or tradition.

 

 

The Wall of Europe

by Sergi Cámara

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IN NORTHERN Morocco there are two coastal cities cut-off from the rest of the African continent. Melilla and Ceuta are autonomous Spanish ports—European exclaves—and for scores of African migrants they represent a gateway to Europe. Migrants routinely attempt to scale the walls that surround each city, but the dangerous climb is just one of many obstacles they must pass if they are to be successful. Death and injury are common in this scramble to reach Europe by any means necessary.

Young migrants from Ivory Coast beg for clemency from the police who have just illegally deported them back to Morocco. EU law bars summary deportations and requires members to allow anyone who steps foot on their territory to apply for political asylum.

Young migrants from Ivory Coast beg for clemency from the police who have just illegally deported them back to Morocco. EU law bars summary deportations and requires members to allow anyone who steps foot on their territory to apply for political asylum.

Twelve kilometers of wall separates Africa from Europe in Melilla, Spain. The barricade consists of three separate fences, each 6-meters high, with a road running down the middle. Armed police are stationed along both sides 24 hours a day, where motion sensors and thermal cameras are also deployed to further deter would-be immigrants.

But it's not enough to stop young Africans from trying to jump the border.

I began this work in 2004, as a personal project reporting on the conditions of immigrants living at the gates of Europe. In these places allegations of human rights abuses and police killings are rampant, as are illegal deportations of immigrants back into Africa. European Union laws requiring member states to allow anyone who steps foot on their territory the chance to apply for political asylum are routinely ignored.

And violence comes from both sides of the border: some migrants are killed in Moroccan police raids before they can even enter Melilla, other are injured by Spanish forces when they are attacked attempting to hop the fences. A serous grievance is the “express” deportation of immigrants who are returned to Morocco even after they have reached Spanish territory, an action banned by the EU. Melilla is a surreal world—separated as it is from the European continent—where the Spanish government has always had difficulty keeping order.

With this work I intend to expose the human rights abuses taking place at the Moroccan border with Europe. The beatings, the deaths, injuries and rapes of Africans from across the continent, and the predicament of migrants living in hiding in the hills outside Melilla. There they perch on Mount Gurugú, looking and waiting for the right moment to infiltrate the border, the city, and Europe.

AZADI Freedom

by Laura Santopietro

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SINCE 1999, Kurdish asylum seekers in Italy have found refuge at Rome’s Ararat Center. Many guests of the center have been the victims of torture and repression in Turkey, others are escaping from ISIS attacks in Iraq and Syria, but all have come to Italy first as they start new lives in Europe.

The reading room of the Ararat Center in Rome, which houses many Kurdish asylum seekers and refugees in transit.

The reading room of the Ararat Center in Rome, which houses many Kurdish asylum seekers and refugees in transit.

Italy is a geographic stepping stone to Northern Europe and a key gateway for many Kurdish immigrants. But while the majority of refugees will eventually seek asylum in other countries, many will be drawn back to Italy as a result of EU law. Implemented in 1997, the Dublin Regulation dictates that the first Member State where an asylum claim is lodged, or where an asylum seeker’s fingerprints are stored, should bear responsibility for that individual’s claim on asylum. This relegates many new refugees to remaining in Italy, a country with a liberal stance on immigration but which has a deep incapacity for accommodating the large numbers of refugees arriving in recent years. In Rome, many immigrants will continue to live in limbo, indefinitely and without a job or support from the state.

Although Italy’s laws fall in favor of asylum seekers, with clear policy for hosting and integration, the country’s own economic challenges—youth unemployment is nearly 44%—makes it difficult to absorb the flow of newcomers. Organizations like the Ararat Center are a crucial response to this crisis.

“Given the shortcomings of the system of acceptance and protection,” explains Nayera El Gamal, a spokesman for the Ararat steering committee, “Newcomers have to wait a long time to get a bed and people will be forced to sleep on the streets. At least here they have a roof, a hot meal and a community to welcome them—an essential element to avoid feeling completely disoriented after the trip.”

For recent immigrants the Ararat Center plays a key role. There they can find a bed, food, and some support navigating the bureaucracy of asylum claims and job searches. Language classes are offered, and a community of fellow Kurds and local volunteers helps to smooth their transition into Europe.

AZADI Freedom is a multimedia project that incorporates photographs, video, and interviews. With its realization we are aiming to reflect some sense of the Kurdish diaspora experience: stateless people, on the run from persecution and violence at home, who find asylum in a foreign land only to be faced with severely limited options. My collaborators on the project were Federica Araco (photographer and journalist) and Paolo Fumanti (photographer and video-maker). All images were made at the Ararat Center in Rome.

Postscript:
In 2014, thanks to the financial support of former guests, and a successful crowdfunding campaign, the Ararat Center received extensive renovations to its facilities. Since construction began, all of the center’s residents have been moved to alternate accommodations, in and outside Rome. Today Ararat no longer provides housing, but its core mission as a Kurdish cultural center for organizing meetings, language courses, and events, is still intact.

The Secret Camps

by Åsa Sjöström

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FOR THE past three years an annual, secret summer camp has been held for women and children in Sweden who are the survivors of domestic and honor violence. The camp, which is organized by the Women’s Rights Organization in Malmö, is meant to bring some sort of normalcy to the difficult lives of its attendees. Children play and swim in the lake, some for the first time, and mothers and children have the opportunity to socialize together without fear of reprisal from their abusive husbands or fathers.

Some children swim in a lake for the first time. They can play and laugh, without being scared.

Some children swim in a lake for the first time. They can play and laugh, without being scared.

While the camp lasts only three days, the impression it leaves on attendees is significant. Although residents are safe at the traditional women’s shelters, the conditions can feel prison-like. Your life is strictly controlled — you’re not allowed to receive visitors, and addresses are kept secret — while abusive fathers or relatives walk the streets freely. Children are largely forgotten at women’s shelters, falling somewhere between the adult world and the jurisdiction of authorities. At many shelters, specialists for helping children deal with the trauma of domestic violence are rare. The shelters themselves can be crowded, and relationships between mothers and children often become strained as women go through the difficult process of starting over. The secret camp offers a welcome reprieve from such stress.

Most important is the bonding that occurs between children and their mothers at the camps. For a few days the children can be carefree, laughing and dancing, and seeing their mothers do the same. It’s a positive context where everyone involved can forge new and important friendships. Often the women don’t know anything about Sweden. Many were brought here via arranged marriage and immediately imprisoned in their husband’s apartment upon arrival. Later, once they’ve begun the long and difficult process of leaving their abusive husbands, many women are faced with the prospect of never returning to their home countries. It is a very difficult decision, especially when you are all alone in a new country. These women live in fear. They are hidden from the world. My method was to allow all the women and children I photographed a concealed identity. In this way they could retain their anonymity while making their individual voices heard.


This project was produced in collaboration with Women's Rights Organization.

The main objective of Women's Rights Organization, WRO, is striving for a society where both women and men have equal values, opportunities and rights. WRO tries to raise awareness among women on their rights and duties and to empower them for better integration and contribution into their society. This organization is not associated to any political or religious view.

The WRO's goal is to eliminate: violence against women and children, honor killing and violence, women oppression, forced marriage, child marriage, and female circumcision (Female Genitalia Mutilation) 

Koodankulam: A Nuclear Plant In My Backyard

by Amirtharaj Stephen

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I COME from a village called Kavalkinaru in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, not far from Kanyakumari. My father was employed at a Heavy Water Plant in Tuticorin, and I spent the first 24 years of my life in the Atomic Energy Township there. I was always told by the people in my township that nuclear energy was safe, and that it was the future. I believed them.

Police forces assemble in front of the KNPP, preparing to go on rounds in Koodankulam village after the imposition of a curfew.  An Indian Coast Guard plane flies too low over the protesting villagers, who have ventured into the sea as a part of their Jal Satyagraha.

Police forces assemble in front of the KNPP, preparing to go on rounds in Koodankulam village after the imposition of a curfew.  An Indian Coast Guard plane flies too low over the protesting villagers, who have ventured into the sea as a part of their Jal Satyagraha.

In 2001, construction of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) had begun at a distance of about 18km from my village. In 2009, I was living in Bangalore and working as a magazine photographer, when I heard about a Kaiga nuclear plant leakage that exposed 50 workers to radiation. Later, when I went to Cambodia for a photography workshop, I found my fellow participants discussing the issues of nuclear safety and weighing the pros and cons of nuclear energy.

Many people in the Koodankulam region did not care much about the power plant or the effect it would have on them, until 2011. The tsunami that shook Japan in March that year, and the subsequent Fukushima disaster, caused panic in the region. The villagers, already severely affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, began raising a lot of questions on the safety of nuclear power. KNPP was nearing its completion just about that time, and the people living in the vicinity of the plant started fearing a similar catastrophe in their region.

The Indian government did little to allay the fears of the villagers regarding safety of the plant and preparedness in the event of a disaster. The official response has always been ambiguous and completely lacking in transparency on plant safety measures.

I had my own concerns about the impact this power plant might have on my native region and I decided to visit Idinthakarai village, the nerve center of the anti-nuclear struggle. During the visit, I witnessed the people’s opposition and understood its intensity. Most media in my state (Tamil Nadu) is highly politicized, as the media agencies there are owned or controlled by individuals with competing partisan interests. Hence, most of the reportage that emerged from the site of the protests had its own underlying political agenda. That was when I decided to document this struggle independently and without any political bias, by being with the people and their concerns. 

 

 

Destino

by Michelle Frankfurter

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DESTINO PORTRAYS the perilous journey by cargo train of Central American migrants in pursuit of a better life in the United States. For the past six years, I have traveled with migrants along the network of freight trains crisscrossing Mexico to tell the story of a generation displaced by conflict, in a landscape that is becoming increasingly dangerous.

Undocumented Central American migrants ride a northbound freight train through the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca—the first leg of their journey by rail to the U.S. border. July 2010.

Undocumented Central American migrants ride a northbound freight train through the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca—the first leg of their journey by rail to the U.S. border. July 2010.

Unlike Mexican migration to the United States—which dates back to the 1880’s—Central American movements began a full century later, the consequence of bloody civil wars, U.S. Cold War-era intervention in the region, and crippling international trade policies. The resulting legacy of drug and gang violence, combined with high instances of poverty and domestic abuse, led to an unprecedented wave of migrants headed north.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the number of unaccompanied minors apprehended while attempting to cross illegally into the United States has tripled since 2008. Government officials and child welfare advocates attribute the alarming spike in child migration to rising gang violence in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Gang members in those countries use threats in an effort to forcibly recruit to their ranks. Faced with an untenable situation, many children choose to flee, seeking out the safety of a life in the United States. But the numbers reported by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, only represent the number of children caught trying to cross into the U.S. The actual number of unaccompanied minors and single mothers with small children attempting the journey across Mexico is substantially higher.

In Mexico, where racism towards Central Americans is prevalent, undocumented migrants are vulnerable to a multitude of dangers that have escalated dramatically in recent years. Police routinely rob and beat migrants. Corrupt immigration officials detain and deport, and bandits and gang members lurk along travel routes. Many have been injured or killed falling from moving trains. And heightened security along the nearly two thousand-mile long U.S. border has made the crossing more dangerous than ever, as smugglers lead migrants through increasingly isolated terrain in order to avoid detection. From these many adversities, migrants find respite in a loose system of shelters run by Catholic priests, and from the benevolence of sympathetic Mexicans in towns and villages along the way.

The issue of migration is current; the story of migration, however, is timeless. Having grown up on the adventure tales of Jack London and Mark Twain, and later Cormac McCarthy’s border trilogy, for me there is no storyline more compelling than one involving a youthful odyssey across a hostile wilderness. With a singularity of purpose, and a kind of brazen resilience, migrants traverse deadly terrain, relying mostly on their wits and the occasional kindness of strangers—much like the anti-hero protagonists of my favorite literature. In documenting a journey both concrete and figurative, I convey the experience of individuals who struggle to control their own destiny. With Destino, I hope to engage the public—especially in border states—in a measured discussion that addresses the root causes behind the current wave of Central American migration.