Category Archives: Europe

Visual Perspectives on the Refugee Crisis

The refugee crisis is inescapable in today’s news. Striking visuals emerging from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa illustrate a story of both desperation and hope. These images allow viewers to stand for a moment alongside migrants and refugees fleeing their home countries in search of a new life and new opportunities.

On November 14-15, the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership (IGL) and VII Photo Agency mark 10 years of collaboration with a series of seminars and workshops at VII Perspectives: Migration. VII founder and Chair of IGL’s Program for Narrative and Documentary Practice, Gary Knight, will be joined by leading VII photojournalists for two days of dialogue and hands-on experience. A selection of several of the photographers’ work on the refugee crisis is highlighted below.

Photos by Ashley Gilbertson

Ashley Gilbertson’s images capture refugees – mostly from Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, as well as regions of the Balkans and Africa – on their way into and through Europe during September 2015.

The exodus of people from Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East to Europe is the largest movement of people since World War II. Working in the refugee transit centers, which see thousands of people daily, the photographer notes that conditions at some of the camps are getting slightly better. However, some conditions – such as five hour train rides packed so tightly there is no room to move beyond the spot people are standing – reflect challenges in addressing the scale of the crisis.

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Photos by Maciek Nabrdalik

Maciek Nabrdalik’s work from September 2015 depicts the journey of refugees as they arrive on the Greek island of Lesvos in rubber dinghies. These individuals continue their journey across the island, eventually headed for ferries to Athens, and beyond.

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Photos by Franco Pagetti

Franco Pagetti’s images from September 2-3, 2015 in the Strait of Sicily capture the work of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

MOAS is a humanitarian search and rescue operation assisting vessels in distress in the central Mediterranean Sea. MOAS vessels use remote piloted aircraft to monitor the seas and provide real-time intelligence to MOAS and the rescue coordination center of Malta and Italy.

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Photos by Ed Kashi

In November 2013, photographer Ed Kashi went to Iraq and Jordan, working with the International Medical Corps (IMC). IMC is a humanitarian non-profit organization that provides aid and relief to those affected by conflict and crisis.

The photographer’s work reflects IMC’s efforts to increase awareness and improve not only the physical, but also the mental health of young refugees plagued by depression, fear, suffering, and the sense of a life turned upside down. His images intimately illustrates the plight of this lost generation.

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Photos by Ron Haviv

Like Maciek Nabrdalik’s, this selection of Ron Haviv’s photographs are centered on the Lesvos, Greece. There, he has captured the work of volunteers helping refugees to arrive safely, as well as the migrants’ journey once they have made it to shore.

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Why the UK Will Vote to Leave the EU

8210248737_ca900f1384_kOn the morning after this year’s UK general election, Prime Minister Cameron called a referendum on the UK’s membership in the European Union. The bill to prepare it is currently going through parliament with the referendum likely being held before the end of 2017 and probably as early as 2016, meaning that a vote could be just a few months away. Prime Minister Cameron does not see it, but the UK is rushing headfirst towards the door marked “exit.”

Public opinion polling shows one third of the electorate in favor of leaving, one third for staying, and one third undecided. This was also the case in 1975, the year of Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s referendum, in which almost all the “undecideds” were won over by the pro-Europe campaign. But there are some crucial differences between the 1975 referendum and this one.

In 1975 British business overwhelmingly backed the “Yes to Europe” campaign, which outspent the “No” campaign by a factor of 12 to 1. Now, business is more divided and rules governing political donations and campaign spending make such a spending difference impossible. Indeed, the campaign to withdraw has thus far raised more money than the campaign to stay.

In 1975 the newspapers and the broadcasters backed continued UK membership, as did the vast majority of political leaders. That is no longer the case. Since 1979, three powerful media magnates have poisoned the political atmosphere through constantly badmouthing the EU and many government ministers have joined them. The attitudes of the major political party leaders, David Cameron of the Conservative Party and Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party, are lukewarm at best.

In 1975 the “undecided” third of the electorate was open-minded and—by the end of the campaign —reasonably well informed. This time the UK population understands less about the EU than the people of almost any other EU country. Public opinion research shows those “in the middle” are far more likely to vote to leave. Polls find that 15 percent of the population might be won over if they think exiting will lead to economic disaster. A further 19 percent feel the EU has no impact whatsoever on their lives. And both sets of people feel uncomfortable with UK membership, having no trust in politicians and associate words like “hope,” “strength,” and “future” more with leaving the EU than with staying. Moreover, an increasing number of people believe that if Britain votes to leave it will not be the end of the story; they expect a second referendum to ensue. Yet studies of previous referenda show that a second referendum is extremely rare.

David Cameron’s “renegotiation” of the terms of our membership is likely to be a damp squib. Our EU partners have made it clear that change to EU treaties is not on their agenda. For every partner Prime Minister Cameron finds to back the reforms he seeks, there is at least one against. He believes he can have a “British Europe,” but this is no more achievable than a “French Europe” or a “German Europe.” By definition, the European Union is a carefully crafted compromise whose rules are revised rarely and only by consensus. “Teaching Johnny Foreigner a thing or two” may appeal to some conservatives, but the Prime Minister’s refusal to join other areas of EU cooperation, such as the resettlement of refugees, means he finds few friends when he needs them.

The most worrying thing to me about this referendum is my strong sense that the political establishment cannot win it. Many are unable to bring themselves to say anything good about Europe, so will rely on negative arguments. Such arguments nearly backfired in Scotland’s referendum on independence last year. Though defenders of the status quo in Scotland narrowly won the vote, they lost the argument by a large margin. They articulated no positive vision for the future, while those seeking to leave argued with emotion and passion, just as the anti-Europeans do.

At stake in the UK are over 50 percent of the country’s exports. Financial services, food businesses, and manufacturing would be hit particularly hard by a break from the UK’s main market partners. Also at stake are the rights of Britons to work, study, live, marry, own property, and even benefit from hospital treatment on the continent, as well as workers’ rights agreed at the EU level such as the right to holiday pay for part-time workers. Finally, at stake is the United Kingdom itself. A majority in Scotland will almost certainly vote to remain in and a majority in Northern Ireland will likely do the same. A majority to come out in England, the largest component of the UK, would likely hasten the break-up of the UK.

Will Britons turn their backs on a political project which has brought seventy years of peace to Western Europe? On free movement rules which allow a Frenchman to manage Arsenal Football Club, a Dutchman to run Manchester United and a Portuguese to steer Chelsea? On membership of a club which gives 500 million Europeans as strong a voice in world affairs as twice as many Indians and three times as many Chinese speakers?

Not understanding the consequences, they might. The only way it can be prevented is for ordinary Britons to recognise that the London political elite cannot win this campaign and to organize now to make sure their country does not sleepwalk out of the EU.

Europe’s Front Door: The Refugee Crisis on Lesvos Island

Record numbers of refugees have crossed from Turkey into Europe this year through Lesvos and other Greek islands amid the world’s largest migration crisis in decades. Propelled by unrest in Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries, hundreds land on Lesvos’s shores each day. Before an underwhelming response from the European Union and the international community, resident and tourist volunteers have borne the effort of receiving and providing for them. The photos below describe a typical day on Lesvos this summer, as lived by the thousands who risk everything to deposit all their hopes in finding safe harbor in Europe.

lesvos-1-740A stone’s throw from Europe: The sliver of the Aegean Sea separating the southern coast of Turkey’s Çanakkale Province from the northern shore of Lesvos by a mere eight nautical miles has become a major transit corridor for refugees entering Europe to seek asylum. As of August 2015, close to 125,000 refugees have made the crossing, at a rate of several hundred to a thousand per day. This rate will likely continue until temperatures drop in October or November.

lesvos-2-740Money for nothing: Though the Greek coast is visible from the start and the crossing usually takes less than one hour, the journey is fraught with danger. The rubber dinghies provided by smugglers in Turkey, meant to seat fifteen or twenty people, are packed to double or triple capacity. Vessels invariably take in water during the trip. Nevertheless, refugees must pay between U.S.$1,000 and $1,200 to cross, and an additional $60 to $100 if they wish for a life jacket. A ticket for the same crossing on a regular ferry runs at about $22.

lesvos-3-740Hallowed ground: Refugees arriving in Lesvos hail mainly from Syria and Afghanistan, fleeing forcible recruitment and persecution by the Islamic State group, the Taliban, or government security forces. During the crossing they must elude interception by the Turkish and Greek coast guards as well as seaborne militias, who are known to assault refugee vessels, rob their occupants, disable their engines, and puncture their rubber hulls. Having survived the harrowing crossing, refugees are understandably euphoric upon reaching Lesvos’s shores.

lesvos-4-740“We are safe. We are in Europe.” One factor distinguishing this wave of refugees from its predecessors is their level of Internet connectivity, particularly among those coming from Syria. Upon arriving on European shores, many refugees unpack tightly wrapped and waterproofed phones to inform family members they have arrived, take celebratory selfies, and, if necessary, confirm their arrival to their smugglers. Men and women kiss and hug each other, children play in the water, and relatives at the country of origin or of destination rejoice.

lesvos-5-740The things they carry: Yet euphoria quickly gives way to hunger, thirst, heat, and exhaustion. After arriving on Lesvos, wet with seawater and weighed down by bags holding all their waterlogged possessions, refugees must often walk for miles to reach the nearest town and find help. In many cases they have already gone several days without food or water while waiting on Turkish shores for smugglers to outfit them with a vessel for the crossing.

lesvos-6-740“Welcome to Europe.” Every morning, volunteers in Lesvos gather at seaside hilltops to scan the waters with binoculars and meet boats where they beach. They provide refugees with water, a little bit of food, and orientation. Convoys form to drive women and children to the nearby town of Molyvos, where other volunteers provide more water and food, toys for children, and a resting place. A nearby café owner generously allows refugees to use her restroom. Many a tourist passing by, moved by the scene, has spontaneously joined the volunteer corps.

lesvos-7-740Resting and recovering: Days of anxious waiting without food or water in 100F temperatures take a toll, as does the hours-long walk from Lesvos’s northern beaches to Molyvos. Refugees are often exhausted by the time they make it into town. Outfitted by volunteers with dry clothes, hats, sanitary products, and toys, they must wait, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for as long as a day, before they can move on to transit camps.

lesvos-8-740From Molyvos to Mytilene: From Molyvos, refugees board UNHCR-provided buses to travel to Mytilene, the largest city on Lesvos. There they register with local authorities and are taken to either Kara Tepe, pictured here, or Moria transit camps, where after a few days’ wait they receive papers from local authorities allowing them to stay in Greece for up to six months.

lesvos-9-740 Heat, dust, hunger, boredom: Life in the transit camps is less than pleasant: even experienced aid workers are shocked by the conditions in Lesvos’s refugee camps. Local and international NGOs provide health care, activities for children, and guidance—yet arriving refugees yearn only to receive their papers, leave the camps, and move on to mainland Greece.

lesvos-10-740Childhood on the run: As dangerous as the journey to Europe may be, staying put is often even more unsafe, so many refugees travel with their entire families. Children as old as one month might have crossed the Aegean with wheelchair-bound, elderly relatives. Children are provided with toys, drawing paper and markers, and supervised by volunteers and NGO workers at the Kara Tepe playgrounds.

lesvos-11-740In the face of difficulty: Though refugees endure scorching heat, shower in the open, use squalid bathrooms, live among accumulated garbage, and are fed only irregularly by camp authorities, many of them are never short of delighted to sit down and share coffee with visitors, like this group of mostly Afghans. They pass the time with visitors by singing songs and playing music on improvised instruments, talking about politics or sports, or retelling their own travels from their home countries to Europe.

lesvos-12-740A new birth of freedom: Once furnished with temporary residency papers, refugees are allowed onto ferries which will take them to Athens. Most anticipate crossing Macedonia, Serbia, and Hungary before entering Austria and from there reaching final destinations in Northern Europe. Once on site, they hope to apply for asylum and then complete studies, find work, and pursue opportunities denied them back home. Many wish to return when war ends in their countries—though not as many expect this outcome anytime soon—if ever.

The Kremlin is Winning the Media War and the West Needs a Strategy

On a trip to Berlin last November I noticed a small stand situated between the U.S. Embassy and the Reichstag building. It included a Russian flag as well as the flag of St. George, and a banner in Russian reading “Germany has not been liberated from fascism!” The people manning the stand were canvassing passersby with fliers in multiple languages, and discussing what they claimed to be the return of fascism to Europe via the ongoing situation in Ukraine. It was unclear where the protesters were from or if they were supported by Moscow. Two things, however, were clear: they were native Russian speakers, and they were presenting the same misleading narrative the Kremlin has delivered consistently since the beginning of the crisis.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this. Westerners are accustomed to public protests and the expression of personal opinions in public forums. Moreover, freedom of speech is a fundamental pillar of Western society. However, on a deeper level, it represents a dangerous and insidious shift away from traditional forms of soft power and threatens to undermine the West by using its own freedoms against it.

The use of Western liberal policies against the West as a tool for political gain manifests most strongly online. Recently, The Moscow Times, an independent English language news publication based in Moscow, chose to suspend the discussion forum on their website due to the onslaught of trolls seeking to kill public dialogue, explaining, “Due to the increasing number of users engaging in personal attacks, spam, trolling and abusive comments, we are no longer able to host our forum as a site for constructive and intelligent debate…” Many other websites covering Russia-related issues have made similar decisions.

The Twitter and Facebook pages of Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul are regularly attacked, as well as those of any prominent American or Western politician who publicly discusses any Russia-related policy issue. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that The Times of India recently featured a piece on a former Kremlin “cyberwarrior” confirming long-held suspicions of Kremlin-backed Internet trolls.

In addition to disrupting meaningful public dialogue online, the Kremlin is also working hard to have its voice heard formally and has gone to great lengths to do so. Kremlin-created and funded mass media projects such as Sputnik International, currently publishing in over sixteen languages worldwide, and RT news, which has opened bureaus in many prominent world cities, are quite sophisticated in their use of Western media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and are gaining traction.

All of this adds up to an information war being waged online and on TV that the West is clearly losing. Ironically, Western liberal values and political structures are being used against the West to whitewash facts and blur the lines between truth and conspiracy. While it is indisputable that Russians should and do have the right to express their viewpoints, they present the West with very difficult questions. How do we preserve freedom of speech and democratic principles when they are deployed against us by those who clearly do not respect them? And how should we respond to such assaults without infringing on our own right to freedom of expression?

Clearly, the West cannot respond in the same manner. Sending foreign nationals to Red Square to reach out to Russians would surely result in the arrest and detention of those involved. And a sophisticated Western “media offensive” that targets Russians in Russian, as Ambassador McFaul and Peter Pomerantsev have suggested, is not likely to be successful because Russia does not respect freedom of the media. As Russia constricts its population’s access to independent media and makes life very difficult for foreign media organizations in the country, the likelihood of outside information reaching Russian eyes and ears is diminishing rapidly. Even using Internet resources such as YouTube would not be effective as the Kremlin is not above shutting down Russian domestic access to Internet services, while simultaneously deploying them as a political tool abroad.

The free flow of information and opinions we see today is a positive characteristic of our time, but it is also easy to exploit. As more conservative and authoritarian regimes such as Russia and China become more aggressive in exerting their influence, the online media war is only going to intensify. If we do not develop effective tools for dealing with the dissemination of information—particularly information produced by our adversaries for political purposes—we risk seeing more suspended discussion forums, or worse, media websites blocked altogether, threatening the very principle of freedom of speech.