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Where the west sets

The refugee crisis and the political paralysis around how to tackle it has deeply impacted parts of Greece. ‘Where the west sets’ is a documentary project that attempts to chronicle this unprecedented crisis.

In the past few years, governments, institutions, and the media have used the expression “refugee crisis” to describe the rising numbers of undocumented individuals and families fleeing to Europe. These people, who come from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, are escaping difficult conditions, including war, poverty, persecution, and human rights violations. Hoping to start a new life in Europe, thousands of refugees have braved the Mediterranean Sea on board inflatable boats and makeshift vessels, driven by an idea of the European dream. 

‘Where the west sets’ is a documentary project that attempts to chronicle this crisis as it plays out on the northern Aegean Islands and mainland Greece – the same territories where western culture and its system of values are supposed to have been born. The aesthetics of my work lies in an approach of going to those places, not as a reporter looking for facts, but as a documentarist trying to verify facts. The series of photographs reflects the consequences that the refugee crisis is having on the ‘cradle of civilization,’ where traditional values of respect for other human beings come up against feelings of hostility, fear, and xenophobia among the Greeks.

Mytilene, Agrilia Kratigou’s beach. Thermal devices are used for the patrol and the identification of refugees boats that arrive clandestinely from Turkey. The photograph shows the thermal image of the coast of Western Turkey, near Cesme.

Mytilene. Tamin Fakti is a 19-year-old refugee from Pakistan. Many refugees escape from official hotspots to live as squatters in destroyed building and crumbling palaces.

Mithymna, Lesbos Island, Greece. Outside the urban areas of Mithymna there is a dump with thousands of life jackets and the wrecks of the boats used by refugees.

Eftalou, Lesbos. Manuel is the owner of a restaurant called the Taverna Eftalou. "Every morning I look out of the window at the beach before my restaurant and I hope not to see the boats of migrants." Many traders and local people have called the humanitarian emergency an “invasion”, a word that best tells the discomfort and trauma that both sides have experienced.

Mytilene, Lesbos. Kenan, 27-year-old Senegalese refugee, looks outside the window in the help centre of the Swiss Cross. "I hope to get a document as soon as possible, in order to go to Northern Europe and begin a new life."

Lesbos, Moni Mirsinidiou. View of the coast.

Mytilene. A rescue boat of the NGO Erci during a patrol at sea. From 2015 many non-governmental organizations have received a mandate and funds from Greece and the EU to help the incoming refugee boats. To date, hundreds of NGOs working throughout Greece are competing over areas of their operations.

Port of Chios. Read, a 19-year-old refugee from Aleppo, dives from a pier.

Lesbos, Eftalou beach. In 2016, many bodies of refugees who had died during the travel were found along this beach. It is now a deserted beach. During a walk in search of traces of migration on the coastal landscape, I ran into this carcass of a dog, who had died several months before and was left to rot.

Athens, Pedion Areos park. A homosexual Arab refugee parades his body to attract customers and to prostitution for a few Euros.

Mytilene, Agrilia Kratigou beach. A refugee bathing. "I envy you! The water is beautiful and crystalline. Isn’t it cold?" I ask him, during the photoshoot. "Yes. But I have nothing else to do." We laugh together. "What is your name?" I ask him. He replies: "That’s not important".

Athens, Elliniko refugee camp. Safir, 23 years old. 

Lesbos, Moria refugee camp. A refugee returns to his tent after taking a shower.

Mytilene. Tamer al-Hamri, a 68 year-old Palestinian refugee, lights a fire in an abandoned house along the Makris Gialos shoreline to warm himself up and cook fish caught during the day. 

Mytilene. Nightlife on Saturday evening in a club in the city along the sea.

Chios, Chios Island. The Souda refugee camp is located inside the archaeological site of the Castle of Chios, built in the 9th century during the Byzantine era. This installation has damaged the local economy, which used to live on tourism. 

Chios, Agios's family home. Nanà helps her son do his homework: "Until two years ago, here in Chios, everybody slept with the door unlocked. Nothing happened because we all know each other. Now everyone has an alarm system, home and property insurance because we are afraid of what we see and what we cannot control. In recent months we have had theft and attacks by refugees who are not escaping from a war. Chios was a beautiful place to live and go on holiday. This game between Turkey and Europe has transformed our islands into buffer-islands."

Eftalou, Molovos. Eric Kempson is a sculptor who also works to support refugees. In 2015, him and his wife Philippa founded the “Ellenic Workshop”, a factory for volunteers who want to offer help to refugees of Lesbos, outside the institutional circuits and the NGO domain.

Aegean Sea, on an Ellenic Seaways ferry. Algerians Ratina, 31, and Zouttir, 26, move from Lesbos to Chios. "If your girlfriend or your wife is pregnant you are entitled to better assistance and you do not go to refugee camps. They provide you a hotel or a house."

Lesbos, Moria refugee camp. 

Mytilene, near the Moria refugee camp. Eirene F. is the owner of a small restaurant: "I’ve never had trouble to fill my restaurant. We are a family, we are happy with few things. Today, however, I turn on the fireplace and prepare the coals to cook the fish only when one person enters the room."

Port of Chios. Falah, a 26-year-old Pakistani refugee, prays on the harbour with the Turkish coast in the background. 

Mytilene. Lutfi, a 21-year-old refugee from Algeria, lives as squatter on the outskirts of the city.

Moria Refugee Camp.

Mytilene. The Agrilia Kratigou beach is a strategic place to patrol the territory, from which you can monitor the maritime border and the Turkish coast. Erik, a young volunteer from Stockholm, patrols the area during the night.

Mytilene. The squatters live in illegal conditions. A lookout system checks the buildings and informs the whole community when the police is going to break in to the occupied areas. In this photograph, Faruk, a 24-year-old refugee from Syria, does his daily shift. 

Mytilene. Fatahi Hamid shows me an x-ray of his ribs, after being beaten by the Hellenic Police. "They were suspicious of me because I was alone aboard. They interviewed me three times asking the same questions. I felt mocked and I lost my temper. They beat me because they thought I was a terrorist. I escaped from the camp and I came here."

Moria refugee camp. Faktur, 38, has a document that certifies his status as refugee. Few refugees have this. "I do not want to go away from here. What will I do? I will be alone and here I have all my friends."

Chios, Orthodox cemetery of Agia Markella. The tomb of an anonymous refugee found dead in the bay below.

About the author

Born in Zurich in 1984, Luigi is a freelance photographer based in Rome and specialized in documentary, editorial, and portrait work. He started working as a documentary photographer after his doctoral studies in Media Studies, which helped him to develop a profound interest in global social and environmental issues. He has visited several countries in the world in state of emergency: Lebanon, Iraq, Colombia, Greece, Kosovo. His images have been published in the Italian national newspapers and international magazines, such as Il Corriere della Sera, Il Messaggero, D di Repubblica, Panorama, Vice, Lensculture and others. He teaches at Sapienza – University of Rome and in several private academies. He is the author of book essays and papers about photography, cinema and visual arts. See more of his work on his website and his Facebook page


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