A brand new but fragile boat touches the coast of Greece, and thereby Europe, for the first time. This flimsy inflatable boat, built in China and shipped to Turkey in bulk has now finished it's role in life, just a few hours after leaving the cost of Turkey. It's made of cheap plastic material and by the looks of it it's not made to last. It's disposable. Only made for this one voyage and to maximize the profit from trafficing refugees.
Unlike some others this voage was a success. Good weather, calm sees and the light of day all almost made the trecharious crossing seem safe. This was not what I had expected and seen on the news. People of all ages disembark the boat and I am counting around 65 souls. There are infants in the arms of young parents, a young man on crouches, another one is probably in his 70's. Most carry a cell phone either in a waterproof bag hanging from their neck or already in their hand, checking for signal, calling or meeagingfriends or family to let them know about their safe passing. Some take a selfie or take a family photo on the beach. Most are still wearing their lifewests. A father takes a photo of his four smiling children in their lifewests posing by the waters edge. I smile, show them my camera. I get a smile back and thereby a permission to take some photos myself. Capture the smiles. The joy of being safe. Smiles are all around. Handshakes and hugs. I welcome the father of four with a handshake. Then a few others. All the while fighting the thought of the troubles they have coming. The long journey ahead. Closed or near closed borders in the Balkans. The winter and cold coming. Racism and ignorance. The lack of understanding and emphaty. The uncertanty.
It accurs to me that they do not realise the hardship and difficulties to coma. That they don't know what they are getting themselves into. >Later when I have spoken to some of them I realise that probably it is I who doesn't know the hardship they are coming from. That maybe, compared to the suffering some of these people have been through, what is yet to come is the "easier" part. Inspite of all the difficulties to come.
I keep shooting. A man in a lifevest and a thick jacket sends a text message. Another one speaks on one phone while holding another one in the other hand. A woman takes a photo of her husband with a young boy on his shoulders... of course on her mobile. Most have their phones up. Reminds me of my role here as a team leader and photographer for a group of specialists from NetHope, setting up wifi systems and mobile charging units for refugees and aid workers. We are connecting the refugees to their families and friends and vital information about their journey onward. The need for that mission is more clear to me now than ever before. Our mobile phone has become our main connection to the world around us. It's our connection to family and friends. Our endless source of information. Our way to pass time. And some of those people have lost almost everything else.
I am in Greece for only three weeks to try and do what I can. But at the time of writing this just over a week after I came home got back on track in my daily life as a husband, father of two and photographer, my mind constantly drifts to those people I met along the way on the Greek islands. Where are they now? Are they at some border camp in the Balkans? Are they at their destination? Are they still hopeful and optimistic? Are the children still laughing and smiling?
Five days after I photographed the people on the beach we meet a group of people, three brothers and their families, that jhad arrived the day before. They tell us that theirs was one of three boats that started the journey together from Turkey. Unlike five days earlier the wether was not good. The sea was not calm, Only their boat reached European shore. They other two never made it according to them. It doesn't take a big wave to capsise an inflatable boat with 60-70 people on bord. At the same time I slept in a four star hotel. The media reported that the king of Sweden wanted to ban bathtubs to protect the environment. I found nothing about maybe 120-140 people lost at sea between Turkey and Greece. How many different versions there are of reality....