This is Iliana.
On January 23-25, my dear colleagues Stavros Malihoudis (reporter) and Thodoris Nikolaou (photographer) traveled to central Greece, to Karditsa, as part of Solomon’s months-long research aimed at portraying the reality of migrant and refugee workers in Greece during the pandemic.
On their first day in Karditsa, Thodoris called me during a break between various meetings, to tell me how good he felt about being on an assignment, out of Athens, after such a long time. “I’m so busy with various things at the moment, but being here is very rejuvenating,” his voice sounded calm.
It’s no doubt that social distancing, imposed by the pandemic, has certainly affected − among many other things − our work in the field by limiting or completely depriving access to it and therefore, limiting contact with people. And the truth is, usually that’s where the stories are − out there.
For this ‘Notes from the Field’ I thought I’d give Thodoris the opportunity to share some thoughts and images from this recent trip to Karditsa, where he was on assignment to learn more about labor inclusion (or exclusion) of refugees who have been living there in recent years.
Here’s Nikolaou’s account, in his own words:
A few days ago, we traveled with journalist Stavros Malichudis to Karditsa as part of our research on the employment of refugees and migrants in the country, and the conditions have changed due to the coronavirus. Our goal was to convey in longform (text and images) not just our own understanding and interpretation of the field, but the ‘direct’ narrative of the people we met.
Our main research method was the investigation of the sources which had been carried out previously. You never go somewhere to cover an issue without having talked to people there beforehand. It’s also very important to research documents and data, to interview refugees, immigrants, volunteers, support workers, employers.
As far as my involvement as a photographer, photography in the field is something that not’s immobile, it reveals something dynamic, and the photographer must be prepared and aware of this. It requires a sense of strict observation and constant interplay with what photographers call a ‘photographic subject’. But I call this ‘subject’ a human being. Every time I photograph under these conditions, I feel that when I return home from being on assignment, I’m returning not only as a more capable professional, but also a better person. The image of refugees and migrants sewing masks and offering them voluntarily to the residents of the city of Karditsa, will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Each assignment has its own characteristics and specifics. It’s necessary to know the cultural background of the people you photograph, but also you must respect the personal history and experience of each individual you focus your lens on.
I always have in mind that I have to lead people to a “safe place” so that they can trust me with their stories. Especially when I work with refugees and migrants, the intensity of their narrations of their experiences is so strong that, inevitably I am deeply affected by what I’m hearing – how could I not be? But I know that I’m there to record, to convey their experience. And to do that, I have to be unwavering and focus on my goal, and that’s what they want too.
I think that the refugee’s memories are so traumatic that no new place can heal this wound. I say this while considering the similarities and differences that life can have for a refugee in a big city like Athens, and in a smaller provincial one, like Karditsa. I believe that the duality of urban/provincial in the case of refugees and migrants is illusory. Our main concern should be making sure their needs are being met, wherever they are. Care, employment, education, a high standard of living, integration and respecting their wants and needs.
Journalists and photographers are required to produce decentralized content. ‘Inflating’ content generates second and third worlds, second and third classes. Every individual, from the center of the capital to the most remote island, should not only have equal access to information, but also be included in it. The perception that journalistic interest is found only in big cities, that only large urban areas ‘generate’ issues, is deeply problematic and undemocratic. I understand the financial difficulty of the media and news organizations, but it is imperative that this perception be changed. Every person has a story, every story is important.
Also, having Nikolaou my guest to this issue of ‘Notes from the Field’, I take the opportunity to include the contribution of one of our close associates at Solomon, sharing with you some previous stories that we had worked on together.
For a year and a half, Hamid Nasseri moved daily from the center of Athens to the northern suburbs and took care of the gardens at houses there. Until the coronavirus appeared, the country entered a second lockdown, and he was forced to lose his job and income again.
Dandom Howladar owns a mini market in central Athens. Since the pandemic hit, fewer customers shop at his store – and they don’t always have good intentions.
Two stories from two different time periods, seemingly unrelated to each other, point to the timelessness of deep-rooted fears towards ‘the other’ which generate scapegoats and reflect people’s worst reactions and behaviors.
To view more of Nikolaou’s work, you can go to his personal website.
COVID-19 and Migration Digest
Below I’ve included links to four recent articles (and a podcast) that I’ve read, which give an overview of the pandemic in regards to refugees and migrants in other parts of the world.
‘Invisible’ migrants risk being last in line for vaccination
As an undocumented migrant living in Colombia, Venezuelan Leidi Gutierrez has little chance of getting a Covid-19 vaccination. With the death toll rising fast, the mother-of-two said all she could do was pray.
The pandemic is no excuse to shut the door on refugee resettlement
COVID-19 is one of the biggest global challenges in modern history, and all nations are grappling with its impacts. But some countries have responded by shutting their doors even further to the world’s most vulnerable.
Asylum seekers sent to hotels after Covid outbreak at former UK army barracks
Of 400 men at military site, about 100 who tested negative for virus are being rehoused to self-isolate.
Migrant Workers Making Covid Gear Most Vulnerable in Pandemic
In Southeast Asia, migrant workers at the bottom rungs of society have borne the brunt of Covid-19. Without real efforts to address their plight, the group could prove to be a key risk to the region’s ability to shake off the pandemic.
Behind closed doors: Filipina workers trapped by the pandemic
Journalist Corinne Redfern discusses the impact the pandemic has had on the Filipino women trapped overseas, including Mimi (not her real name) who works for a wealthy family in London for just £5 an hour. Mimi was asked to keep working through the first lockdown with the family coaching her on what to say if the police stopped her. In her spare time, Mimi helps other overseas workers escape situations where they are being abused.
Thanks, as always, for your support.
I’d love to hear from you. Please don’t hesitate to contact me and share your thoughts, questions, and ideas.
‘Till next time,
*This Newsletter is part of Solomon’s project “Migrant workers in Greece in the time of COVID-19 ″ and is supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Office in Greece.