“It doesn’t need promoting and it should not be sold. That is a great freedom for a start,” said Thomas Dworzak of his new book, which is part photography, part guidebook, part travel advice, part history – and “heavy like a phone book”.
The 600 pages of Europa: An Illustrated Introduction to Europe for Migrants and Refugees are written in four languages: Arabic, Farsi, English and French.
With pictures taken by some of the world’s leading photographers – Dworzak and his colleagues from the Magnum agency – what the book does most of all is show respect.
- Syrian Kurdish refugees enter Turkey from Kobane in northern Syria
“It’s not a lot of consolation to people who have lost everything. But I wanted it to be of the very best quality. That felt important,” he said. “And it’s more than a Rough Guide, although it has that practical side.”
- Syrian smugglers transport a family on a rowboat across the Orontes river, which marks a stretch of the border between northern Syria and southern Turkey
The book offers an introduction to the motivations behind the creation of the European Union, charting its development and the debates that will be relevant in determining its future. There are first-person testimonies from some of the people who make up Europe today, from residents to immigrants to old and new refugees. In their own words, they tell their stories of displacement, war, solidarity and reconciliation. The book is given out only to refugees.
- Stills from security cameras monitoring the border fence between Morocco and the Spanish city of Melilla, on the north coast of Africa
- A boat coming from Libya is intercepted by the coastguard, who escort it to the port where police and volunteers are waiting for the 158 people on board
German-born Dworzak has been behind a camera all his adult life. He has documented the wars in Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan, covered many of the world’s catastrophes and disasters, and photographed some of the participants in the major conflicts of the past two decades.
But his more recent work covering the refugee crisis – photographing and talking to the streams of men, women and children fleeing desperate lives and destroyed homelands – made him think about doing things differently, doing something that would help as well as document.
“For some 25 years I have been doing this every day, documenting, and it was time to turn it around and do something to help and to get all my Magnum buddies to take part too. The whole process took longer than I imagined, but the need wasn’t going away.
- Volunteers help refugees come ashore near the village of Skala Sikamineas, on the northern tip of the Greek island of Lesbos, after travelling on a rubber dingy from Turkey
“Every time I talked to refugees, they would be asking me questions: ‘What is it like in Germany? In Sweden?’ I wanted to know what it was like in Aleppo, they wanted to know about the new world, the Europe they were heading for. There was this clear need for a Lonely Planet, a guidebook to help them with more general information about culture, a real introduction to Europe.
- Migrants wait for trains at Tovarnik on the Croatian-Serbian border
“I wanted to flip things on their head. I’m not a super-humanitarian or anything, but I wanted to collaborate with the refugees I was photographing, to make something for them, to illustrate their lives as well as their situation, which is a tiny part of a bigger global crisis,” he said.
- Ben Brown of the BBC and Nic Robertson of CNN report among the remains of a refugee camp, after the inhabitants were allowed to continue their journey through Austria
“And I wanted to tell them about European culture without being too pompous about it. There are a lot of things that refugees ask which take you by surprise, make you think.”
- Syrian refugees at the Austrian-German Wegscheid border post wait to cross into Bavaria
- Left: the Festival of the Crosses is celebrated on 3 May in Murcia, Spain. Right: an anti-terror march in Paris following the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. The slogan “I am Ahmed” refers to the Muslim policeman who was murdered in the attack
So Dworzak, together with colleagues from Magnum, a cooperative agency made up of some of the world’s most respected photographers with an archive going back decades, began the book to help answer some of the questions.
In the spirit of a travel guide, the book offers practical information. How to use an ATM in Stockholm. What does a rubbish bin look like in Berlin? It highlights the major destination countries, their political systems, geography, demographics and traditions, as well as their typical food and drink, films and books of interest. It also lists organisations that provide information and services to migrants and refugees.
Dworzak received a grant from the Magnum Foundation to kickstart the project. A print version of the book has been distributed, free, to NGOs and people working with migrants and refugees in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Holland and Sweden. A digital version of the book is being developed.
- A shelter for refugees and asylum seekers in Herkulesstrasse, Germany
“It’s always difficult to get away from being a western-centred photographer and see things from the refugee’s point of view, but we did a lot of research, not scientific, just asking people, and there were quite a lot of practical things.”
As strong believers in the visual narrative, the photographers picked many pictures for the book that are are treasures from the Magnum archive, dating from the 1940s to the present. Some are compelling documentary photos and others offer practical illustration.
- A girl cowers in rubble in Dessau, Germany, in April 1945
The context of refugees stretching back in Europe’s history was something the photographers felt was vital to include, said Dworzak.
- Refugees from the civil war areas of Greece in 1948
“The most touching thing was how people reacted to the tone of the history and other people’s experiences. For a family from Aleppo, realising that Europe was totally flattened in 1945 and had to rise from the ashes can be comforting, it creates a parallel.
“Urban Syrians and Afghans say, ‘Wow, this is nice. Thanks for something nice.’ They acknowledge the respect. So I guess we didn’t screw it up.”
- A refugee waves to indicate a safe landing area to an inflatable raft as it approaches the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos
• The book has been launched in partnership with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture as the first project under its special programme, the Arab European Creative Platform