Marko Drobnjakovic

The images in this gallery were taken over the course of a year, while i was assigned to follow developments in the refugee and migrant crisis that ensued in Southeast Europe. The photographs are displayed in the chronological order in which they were captured. 

Only a year ago, the desperate journey being made by people from war torn areas like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq wasn’t as apparent as it is today. Back then, individuals and small groups crossed borders on foot each night, sneaking across under the cover of darkness to avoid border patrols. But what started off as a trickle turned into an unstoppable river of hundreds of thousands of people surging through Southeast Europe and towards what they hoped would be a brighter future.

This wave of humans escaping death and conflict ended up forming the biggest movement of people through Europe since World War II. According to the IOM and the UNHCR, in 2015, as many as 800,000 refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa have risked their lives by crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece, embarking on this arduous voyage towards the wealthy EU countries. From Greece, they headed north, through the Balkans, their sights set on Western Europe. The vast majority of people undertaking this harrowing journey were in need of protection, fleeing war, poverty and persecution in their home countries.

The people crossed the Aegean in overcrowded dinghies and unseaworthy boats, scuffled for a place in trains and buses, gave their entire savings for a taxi ride to the next border. Some of them were smuggled by ruthless people traffickers, others trekked through forests and hid in corn fields, jumped over coils of barbed wire, all in hope of reaching the safety of Europe and starting their new lives.

For the past year, I followed them through Southeast Europe and where ever I went I felt that these people needed to be heard and their plight had to be documented. I wanted others to see what I was seeing. Sometimes, a little girl’s dark eyes would stay in my mind long after she continued her journey. Faces of youths peering through the window of a military tent at a croatian refugee camp, an afghan mother holding her baby as they slept on a bench at a park in Belgrade, or a man resting in a field strewn with waste left behind by thousands who passed that way, were all part of history developing before my very eyes.

As another winter sets in in the Balkans, the refugees are facing fresh obstacles with the seas roughing up off greece and countries further north along the corridor partially closing their borders to impose stricter controls. At the other end, EU nations have been reluctant to take in many more refugees, fearing public backlash. But many desperately continue to make the journey.

Soon bodies washed on the shores of the Greek islands may no longer matter.

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