According to UNHCR, approximately 850,000 refugees and migrants, including children, arrived in Greece by sea in 2015. Of these, just over 500,000 landed on Lesbos, a Greek island around eight nautical miles from the Turkish coast. Although at the centre of migration flows, Lesbos had nothing to offer the mainly Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who arrived there. Once they reached Europe’s beaches, they were welcomed with a long trek across the island’s mountainous interior, followed by days and nights spent in crowded refugee camps, where not even a place in a tent was guaranteed and where basic amenities such as toilets and showers were lacking. But it was in those under-serviced and poorly managed camps that they had to stay, in order to obtain the required registration to allow them to travel legally through Greece and continue their journey of hope towards other European countries, such as Germany and Sweden.
This is the story of young, often underage migrants fleeing their home countries, trying to enter the european union through Greece. Every day in Greece, these young people confront the difficulties of a country tormented by the economic crisis. Greece also refuses asylum requests more than any other country in Europe, reaching a 99.5% refusal rate in 2012. Many young migrants therefore see other european countries as their only hope of a future, and attempt to leave Greece at the first possible moment, often in desperate ways, tolerating desperate conditions. The wars they leave behind at home are just the beginning of their tragedy.
Refugees in Bulgaria
In 2013, due principally to the war in Syria, Bulgaria found itself in the middle of international migration flows like never before.
Caught completely unprepared for the around 11,000 refugees and asylumseekers it suddenly found within its borders in the space of just a few months, the Bulgarian Government would define this as the greatest humanitarian emergency the country had faced in the last 90 years.
Bulgaria’s handling of the crisis made it the subject of harsh criticism, prompting the European Union to intervene with contributions of almost six million euros, which Bulgaria has used to restructure and reorganise its refugee centers and to control its border with Turkey.
This work looks at the issue of immigration in Bulgaria now that the crisis has passed and seeks to document the changes the country is undergoing as it faces the issue of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
Alessandro Penso studied clinical psychology at Rome’s La Sapienza University. In 2007, he received a scholarship to study photojournalism at the “Scuola Romana di Fotografia”. Since completing his studies, his work has won several awards, including:
-PDN Photo Student Award
-PDN Photo Annual Award
-Project Launch Award in Santa Fe 2011
-Terry O’ Neill TAG Award 2012
-Sofa Global Award 2013
-1st General News of World press Photo
-Magnum Foundation Emergency Found
-Burn Emerging Photographer Found
Alessandro is deeply committed to social issues, and in recent years he has been focusing on the issue of immigration in the Mediterranean. During this time, he has produced work on detention centres in Malta, the situation of migrant workers in the agricultural sector in the south of Italy, and young people stuck in limbo in Greece. Motivated by the desire to raise awareness of situations of injustice at Europe’s margins, Alessandro intends to continue working on this issue in the months and years to come.
Alessandro is also keenly aware that the difficult social and economic conditions in Mediterranean countries are providing an outlet for the phenomena of cultural closure, xenophobia and violence, which represent, for migrants, an insurmountable obstacle to their enjoyment of even the most basic human rights. In 2012, he witnessed a brutal attack on a group of migrants in Corinth, Greece, in which one young man, Mostafa, was hit by a car. This experience has further motivated Alessandro to continue his work on this issue, also in an effort to raise awareness of and to help combat xenophobia and race-related violence.
He hopes his work will also help fight the dehumanisation and stereotyping of migrants which can take place in public discussion, sometimes for political gain. Alessandro’s work has appeared in numerous publications, including Stern Magazine, The Guardian, BBC, The New York Times, Businessweek, Time Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, Human Rights Watch, L’Espresso, Internazionale, D di Repubblica, Vanity Fair Italia, El Periodico, Le journal de la photographie, Enet and Ekathimerini.