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لسبوس | لزبوس | ΛΕΣΒΟΣ | Lesbos

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THE GATES OF FORTRESS EUROPE ARE FIRMLY CLOSED IN 2020, LEAVING ONLY A FEW LOOPHOLES. AT FEW PLACES REFUGEES DO MANAGE TO CROSS THE BORDERS. ONE IS THE GREEK AEGEAN ISLAND OF LESBOS, WHICH HAS BECOME A FOCAL POINT OF THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN MIGRATION ROUTE. THE LARGEST REFUGEE CAMP IN EUROPE IS LOCATED ON THE ISLAND. CONFLICTS EMERGE ON THE SPOT. AT THE END OF FEBRUARY 2020, PARTS OF THE ISLAND'S POPULATION TURN AGAINST REFUGEES.

AN ATTEMPT TO DOCUMENT THIS MOMENT.


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The following multimedia reportage deals with the situation of refugees on Lesbos. Part of the story are (sexualised) violence, suicide, trauma and hatred against minorities.

For this multimedia format we use not only texts and photos, but also audio and video. With the mouse wheel or the arrow keys on the keyboard the next page is called up. The player can be controlled with the menu in the upper right corner.

We have tried to shed light on numerous aspects of the situation - an extensive story is the result. The following journey takes about 45 minutes.

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Map

Chapter 1: Moria

Chapter 2: Locals

Chapter 3: Racist Mobilisation Thermi

Chapter 4: The Crossing

Chapter 4: The Crossing

Chapter 4: The Crossing

Chaoter 5: The North & NGO's

Chapter 6: Now ?

Perspectives

About this Project

News

Summary

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Moria

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Even before you can see the camp, you can hear it. The murmur of a thousand voices, the sounds of the camp, which stretches over a hollow between two hills and is surrounded by olive trees.

When Moria Camp opened in 2015, the former military site was designed to accommodate up to 3,000 inhabitants. In spring 2016, the European Union declared "Moria" a so-called "hotspot". According to the EU-Turkey agreement, refugees are to be registered here and their asylum procedures carried out. People with positive asylum decisions should then be quickly distributed to other EU countries and rejected refugees deported to Turkey.

Since 2016 about 2,000 people have been deported from Greece to Turkey and about 37,700 have been transferred to the Greek mainland. But, in 2019 alone more than 60,000 people arrived on the Greek islands in boats. More than 20,000 people are staying in the Moria camp at the end of February.


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The statistics of Aegean Boat Report and UNHCR show the main problem on the Greek islands. While more and more boats are landing, transfers to the mainland are progressing only slowly.
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In Moria, the newly arrived have no choice but to build huts out of pallets and tarpaulins or to live in tents. The building materials are bought with the last savings.

The dwellings stand close together, separated only by muddy paths and steps dug into the loamy soil. An aid organisation tries to keep track of the chaos by spraying house numbers on the outer walls of the small dwellings. In this way volunteers can later react to the individual needs of the inhabitants and find them again.

So it happens that a family with a small child sits in their hut while drinking tea and NGO staff knock on the door to hand over a baby carrier for the baby.
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Camp "Moria" has been chronically overcrowded for years. The basic medical and hygienic care is insufficient or even non-existent. In March 2020 there is even a regular lack of running water.

Again and again there are serious outbreaks of disease and epidemics. There are suspected cases of tuberculosis, for example. In Moria, families of five live in huts no larger than six euro-pallets. Diseases spread at a high speed. Marco Sandrone, spokesman for MSF, tells the SRF in March : "Scabies eats people alive."

In addition to overcrowding, piles of rubbish are lying around in Moria due to a lack of infrastructure.
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Next to a ditch filled with thousands and thousands of empty plastic bottles, residents have built some small shops. On the so called main street traders offer fruits and vegetables. There is bread from clay ovens, a barber and even a small Syrian restaurant.
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From individual suffering to collective solutions


Self-organized projects are an essential part of the camp. One example is the "School of Hope" initiated by Zekria Farzad, a former journalist from Afghanistan. The facility, which consisted of several wooden buildings, provided free access to education for up to 1,200 students per day. From language courses to music lessons and art.

Another example: In the face of the threat of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, refugees sewed masks for the camp residents.

In addition, with the help of NGOs, refugees coordinate the distribution of donations in Moria themselves.
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As the situation continues to deteriorate, protests against the conditions are held at the beginning of February. Several demonstrations take place, mainly initiated by Afghan women. Among other things, refugees try to reach the city of Mytilini with a demonstration. The police nip these protests in the bud with extreme severity. With tear gas and batons, refugees are forced to turn back and thus silenced. The protests end, according to a camp resident, after refugees are threatened with consequences for asylum procedures. Later protest is taken up again in spring 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Depending on their countries of origin, the inhabitants organise themselves in communities, discuss and plan their life together. The places where the individual communities live inside the camp differ. Despite inevitable conflicts, the inhabitants of Moria are united by an escape to Europe that is unimaginable for outsiders, and by the unconditional will to bring a bit of normality to life in the camp. Each tries to find different ways to deal with this exceptional situation.
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Starboy sits with his friends on a crash barrier at the access road in front of the camp. They came from Nigeria. Hehas been in Moria for four years with some interruption.

When he first arrived, he decided to escape the lack of prospects in the camp. A few months later he hid on a truck and fled to Athens. There he would have "lived properly" again for the first time, before he was picked up by the police a short time later, who brought him back to Moria. By violating the residence obligation he was deprived of his so-called pocket money, he says.

Now Starboy and his friends spend the endless waiting to tell journalists their story and hope for a little tip. Starboy's story is only one of over 20,000 in Moria. Every inhabitant of the camp has hopes and desires that are threatened to vanish in anonymity.
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Next/Lost Generation

Over 40 percent of the camp's inhabitants are minors. About a thousand grow up without parents or guardians. The infrastructure created especially for them is overcrowded, only the youngest get a spot. Many are severely traumatised by war and flight. Again and again there are reports of children who want to take their own lives, hurt themselves or fall silent. Minors report that they do not leave their tents in the evening and at night in fear of attacks.

Again and again, there are also deaths in the camp due to stabbings that are not yet of age. When it rains, small streams of mud and garbage flood the tents. In mid-March at least one child dies in a fire.
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One of the reasons why life in Moria pulsates in spite of the misery is the children romping everywhere on the narrow paths and on the hills. They show a lightness that only children can muster in such a situation. When the weather is fine, the terrain turns into their playground. The simplest objects become toys. Perhaps the most popular of those are glass marbles, which are used to play a kind of bowls.
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To draw attention to the untenable situation on the ground, photographers usually have to work with drastic images. In the illustration of the suffering in Moria, people can become an accessory. Especially in times of verbal dehumanization of refugees it is more important than ever to show their personality and individuality.

The following picture gallery is an attempt to remove the people from the context of the camp and thus bring them into focus:
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For lack of alternatives, refugees are dependent on the wood of the olive trees in the area to fire the countless small ovens for cooking or heating. In a large radius around the camp Moria the trees have already been cut down. Some of them were also set on fire by residents. Lesbos is known worldwide for the olive oil produced here. The centuries-old trees are subsidized by the EU and are a kind of national sanctuary of the Greeks.

Naquibullah says, looking over the hills with cut down trees: "I want to plant a tree. ... The view is sad."
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Various NGOs have bought up individual plots of land around Moria to counteract conflicts. However, every report about the problems caused by a wild camp the size of a small town led to more anger among the local population. In mid-February, the inhabitants of the village of Moria, about two kilometres from the camp of the same name, begin to set up evening road blockades. They stop refugees and prevent NGO workers from passing through. During this time, there are also attacks on the cars and the accommodation of an NGO that had rented a house in Moria.

When the Greek government then announces its further plans for the islands, the mood on Lesbos changes.
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Locals

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The events of February 25th to 27th mark a turning point on Lesbos. The island, whose inhabitants had already been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for their humanitarian aid in the years after 2015, is partly turning against refugees.

The island population is left alone with a humanitarian emergency. Far-right actors sense the moment to take action. The narrative of a threatening "invasion of Europe" is underscored by Erdoğan's announcement to open Turkey's borders to refugees.

On March 1st a spontaneous racist mobilisation took place at the port of Thermi.


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Thermi

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In the port of Thermi we - the authors of this multimedia story- become the target of an extreme right-wing assault. We are beaten to the ground, kicked and two of our cameras land in the harbour basin. The material on the memory cards seems lost at first, but can be restored later. Our cameras have been replaced by a solidary crowdfunding. An online hatestorm follows and we leave Lesbos. After pictures and videos of part of the attack circulate we also try to point out: The refugees should remain central topic, who cannot leave the island in case of danger and for whom racist attacks are part of daily life.
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One can hardly imagine how the people in the boat must have experienced the situation. Already traumatized by the crossing they are prevented to come ashore by an angry mob, that beats people, at the exact moment when they thought they reached safety.
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A few weeks earlier in February, Naquibullah dared to make the crossing with his entire family. Shortly after his arrival on Lesbos he tells about the dangerous venture and his experiences.
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Crossing

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While Naquibullah survived the crossing slightly hypothermic and weakened, UNHCR statistics show another sad reality: Many people have already died or disappeared in the Aegean Sea during the crossing from Turkey to Europe.


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About 20 minutes from Mytilini, hidden in an olive grove, lies the cemetery for refugees who lost their lives on the crossing to Lesbos. Numerous graves are still without name plates. For more than 177 people, the field currently offers a place of final rest.

All those who cross the strait in a rubber boat at least accept the possibility of dying.

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Following the announcement of the opening of the border by the Turkish President Erdoğan at the end of February, media interest in the boat arrivals on Lesbos rose sharply. Moving images of people landing on the coast of Lesbos have dominated media coverage of the the eastern Mediterranean route since 2015. There is a thin line between the privacy of people who have just completed a potentially fatal crossing and the public interest to document this. 

Of course, a boat landing must be documented, but the question should be asked as to what really needs to be shown. Some photographers outdo each other with more and more dramatic pictures during landings. The people just stepping off the boat are made into a symbol against their will. Particularly in the case of immediate landings, those affected have no way of refusing to be photographed. To confront a potentially traumatized person whimpering in pain with three cameras at eye level remains at least questionable, even with consent.

A landing of a boat is an emergency situation that can result in injuries, heart attacks and convulsions. Similar to a traffic accident, it must be possible to photograph the event without massively encroaching on the privacy of potentially traumatized and injured persons.
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The North

The small fishing village of Skala Sikamineas on the north coast of Lesbos is one of the main places for boat arrivals from Turkey. On maps of the International Organization for Migration, the place is marked as a transit point for hundreds of thousands of people who have entered the European Union here.
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Hardly more than 30 houses squeeze around a small harbour. Opera arias in Greek and Italian resound day and night from the balcony of one house. Several times a day, travelling fruit vendors break through the idyll with their loudspeaker vans. Turkey is within sight, at the straits narrowest point the coast is only eight kilometres away. "Goji's Cafe" is centrally located at the port. The walls of the cafe with its plastic winter garden are plastered with photographs and signatures of former volunteers from all over the world. Skala has become a meeting point for Frontex, military, police, locals, journalists, volunteers from NGOs and politicians.

Since 2015, all this has been part of everyday life here. With binoculars and night vision equipment, Lighthouse Relief volunteers observed the strait day and night. Always on stand-by for a landing.
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A small lighthouse marks the tip of the island on the rocky, rugged coast.
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Sophie also lived in Skala Sikamenias with several interruptions in the last years. After she had been on site as a volunteer in 2015, she had completed a medical training in Germany in order to be able to help the arriving people appropriately. She describes the events from February onwards like this:

*The text speaks of a burning camp, meaning a first reception camp in Skala, which was closed at the beginning of February. The camp served as a shelter for people who had just arrived.

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Volunteers have left messages in a shelter near the lighthouse at Skala with a view onto Turkey.
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NGO's

The Refugee Rescue team has been on site on Lesbos since the "Summer of Migration". With the rescue boat "Mo Chara" the volunteers towed rubber dinghies out of the danger zone when the waves were too high. Part of the team: Numerous international rescue teams who wanted to prevent deaths in the strait between Greece and Turkey.
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On land, volunteers of Lighthouse Relief supported the arrivals. While in 2015 there were still thousands of volunteers on the ground, leaving their mark, in early 2020 there was only a hard core of about 40 people working on the north coast of Lesbos. Services have been temporarely suspended on the north shore due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The aim of the organisations was to step in where the Greek government was failing.
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This is also the mission of the MSF clinic at the foot of Moria camp. With the children's clinic, the organisation, which has been identified by the villagers as the "only serious" NGO, is trying to counteract the humanitarian suffering. Faced with serious illnesses and the number of inhabitants of Moria, the clinic's capacity is insufficient. Nasrin reports that she had a blood analysis, but no ultrasound. In case of serious injuries, the hospital of Mytilini must help.

Also Doctors Without Borders has to suspend the service again and again because of hostility. A Danish doctor reports how he and his companions were attacked by a group of men with chains and iron bars at a road blockade.

Violent assaults occur again and again, which increase strongly after the victory over the Athens MAT by the islanders.
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Perspectives

Despite all this, there are still activists on Lesbos who are committed to helping refugees. Despite curfews by Corona. One activist tells how she has perceived the change of mood on Lesbos and how struggles will continue for her.

While a part of the island has turned away from solidarity with refugees, many activists continue to support them unconditionally.

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When Covid-19 reaches Greece, there is an exodus of volunteers. Since the middle of March, it has no longer been possible to enter Lesbos without further ado. The Greek government imposed a curfew. Only in late May volunteers are able to return.

Also affected: The inhabitants of Moria. 20,000 are to reduce their social contacts and not to go out. Without running water and crammed into small huts, some of them already pre-sick, one would not want to imagine the effects of the lung disease Covid-19. Various groups call for evacuation. Some hundred are evacuated, the number though is ridiculously low compared to the number of inhabitants Moria has. In early June restrictions for Greek citizens are lifted, but a curfew for Moria remains. At the same time hundreds of refugees move on ferries to Athens into the unknown to escape the situation.

For people in Moria the situation is more tens than ever and individual conflicts from Lesbos are symbolic of the collective failure of Europe and the unwillingness of the Greek government to make the situation in Moria more humane.
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In September 2020 a catastrophic scenario occurs. After Moria was spared from the Corona pandemic for months, the disease reaches the camp on September 2nd.

In the night from September 8th to 9th, Moria burns down. The cause of the fire is unclear, Greek authorities assume arson and present six suspects after a few days. Protests are said to have taken place in the camp before the fire.

More than ten thousand people lose their homes that night. They now sleep in olive groves and on streets around the camp. The police shoot at refugees with tear gas. The access for journalists is limited.

Picture by Murat Tueremis (Instagram Photostory)


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People spend about a week on the streets around the camp. Local journalists report about the lack of food, water and tents. The Greek government moves several counterinsurgency units and water cannons to the island. Protests of refugees are quelled with tear gas.

Pictures by Murat Tueremis (Instagram Photostory)

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The Greek government's plan to set up closed camps becomes reality in the summer of 2020.

On an old shooting range, a camp for thousands of people is created in less than a week with the assistance of UNHCR.
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Summary

Europe's largest refugee camp has no continuous running water in spring 2020. Families of six share huts no larger than six euro-pallets. Médecins Sans Frontières speaks of one tap for 1300 people, a shower is shared by 242 people and a toilet by 167 people. When asked about the humanitarian treatment of refugees, there seems to be no unity or humane answers in the European Union.

The misery in Moria camp is a burden for everyone involved on Lesbos. Refugees have to live in inhuman conditions for several years, the island population lacks income from tourism and NGOs are not able to provide adequate aid.
By shifting asylum procedures to the European external borders, the system of so-called "hotspots", and the Dublin II regulation, there is an asymmetrical distribution of the humanitarian responsibility in Europe to provide access to an asylum procedure and to ensure decent accommodation for the period of examination. The fact that the asylum procedure is tied to the first country of arrival and the promised redistribution of refugees to all EU member states has not been achieved, increases the burden on individual states. Greece, Italy and Spain are only a few examples of economically weaker regions of Europe that are affected by this.

The real effects of the European policy of isolation against refugees are manifested in everyday conflicts on Lesbos. The history of many local islanders is marked by the experiences of their ancestors fleeing and the atrocities committed by the German occupying forces during the Second World War. Many are in solidarity with refugees from war zones and demand a humane treatment of these. When hundreds of thousands of people arrived on the island in 2015, the local residents distributed clothing and food. However, the more crowded the camp Moria has become over the years, the more the islanders felt left alone with the humane accommodation of the refugees and threatened by the situation.

The Greek government has been pursuing a tough course against refugees for years. Particularly after the election of the new Greek government with the "liberal-conservative" Nea Demokratia in July 2019, the social discourse, similar to that in many other European countries, has drastically turned against refugees. Narratives such as that of an "invasion" of Greece by refugees, conspiracy theories and the serving of racist resentments have contributed to this. Similar to Germany, the public discourse has shifted from a " welcoming culture" to a closed-off culture. Right-wing populists have paved the way for current events on Europe's external border by dehumanising refugees, especially people of the Muslim faith, for years. As Erdoğan announces the opening of the border, Ursula von der Leyen stages herself in a video with wartime aesthetics and calls Greece a European "protective shield". Images that depict fleeing people as a threat that must be fended off have motivated right-wing radicals across Europe to travel to the external border in order to further intensify the discourse. As long as migration continues to be seen as the "mother of all problems" and the EU's approach to refugees does not change drastically, the situation cannot be reconciled with the simplest human rights.

As mentioned above, there are still people supporting refugees in Lesbos in 2020 and they are more urgently needed than ever. Whether NGOs or social initiatives. It is more important than ever to stand up for the human right to seek asylum and also to support people on the ground.


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News

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To be continued...
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About

About this project and why we tell the story this way...

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When we set off for Lesbos, it was clear that the island was a focal point in the current discourse about refugees in Europe. Inspired by the visit of an exhibition of Fiona Tann we had the idea to combine video portraits and photos. The focus of our work was in fact on individual stories, which are often pushed into the background in the context of refugees.

On site we found a catastrophic humanitarian situation. Misery and solidarity. And a lot of anger.

During our work on the ground, the situation on the island imploded. Local groups felt for a moment that they were in power around the "street". We tried to show the multifaceted and complex conflicts on the island.

The reason for wrapping our snapshot of Lesbos in a freely accessible multimedia reportage, we see in the fact that the information about the blatant maladministration of the EU and the failure of various political players should be freely accessible to everyone.

The project would not have been possible without the support of numerous friends and colleagues.

A special thanks goes to
  • The colleagues on Lesbos, who have supported us in our work
  • George for his translation
  • Katerina Anastasiou for help with the Greek swear words
  • Leah Fot for the graphics
  • Houmer Hedayat for the translation and editing of the parts in Farsi/Dari
  • Hauke Dannenfeld for the fine tuning of the videos
  • Laura Späth, for the off-commentary
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©Helena Manhartsberger/Rafael Heygster
©Helena Manhartsberger/Rafael Heygster
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Raphael Knipping

In his work, he deals mainly with social movements, migration, environmental destruction and the consequences of the climate crisis.

Student at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hannover

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©Helena Manhartsberger/Rafael Heygster
©Helena Manhartsberger/Rafael Heygster
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©Helena Manhartsberger/Rafael Heygster
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Michael Trammer


In his work, he deals mainly with social movements, breaking news, politics, the far right and humanitarian crisis.

Media designer image & sound
Student at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Hannover

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©Helena Manhartsberger/Rafael Heygster
©Helena Manhartsberger/Rafael Heygster
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Starboy

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Naquibullah Ghaznawi

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Nasrim

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The misery in the camp determines the pictures and the superficial impression that the public from Moria gets to see. To draw attention to the untenable situation on site, photographers usually have to work with drastic pictures. In the illustration of the suffering in Moria, people can be an accessory and the individuality of the inhabitants is in danger of being neglected. Especially in times of verbal dehumanization of refugees it is more important than ever to show exactly this individuality. To explain the project, Jazar wrote a note for us:
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Inhabitants of Moria, we want to show people from all over the world that thousands of refugees live in Moria.

We take pictures and publish them to show the world that thousands of people live in Moria.

We photograph you and if you have WhatsApp, we will send the pictures to you.
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  • Michael Trammer & Raphael Knipping

    Credits: Michael Trammer, Raphael Knipping

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