The brief had been simple. Fly to Greece. Spend two days reporting from the refugee camps. Fly home. But it didn't quite work out like that...
‘It’s midnight in Germany, and I’m sitting in the dirt with Sham in my lap as she rolls a bottle of water back and forth against a tree, laughing uproariously. An hour earlier, I was making origami figures. Before that… well, I was in a police station, trying to convince a team of officers that I’m not trafficking Aysha and her daughters. I’m just following them.
“‘Following’ is the same as ‘helping’,” one tells me. I feel sick with fear, but have to disagree – I’ve been utterly useless. After all, how do you help somebody who has nothing? Where do you start? When do you stop?
The brief had been simple. Fly to Greece. Work with the International Rescue Committee to meet women living in the camps. Ask them questions, take photos, come home. I wanted to raise awareness of the refugee crisis; to put faces to the facts. All in two and a half days.
But driving across the island with my photographer, we passed a boy having an epileptic fit by the side of the road. He’d been walking for two days, and as we tried to remember enough first aid to help him, I began to realise what the four million refugees are risking in order to reach safety. When we stumbled across Aysha, Sham and Bisan on the beach a few hours later, we took them to the nearest camp – it didn’t seem right to drive away. And it didn’t seem right the day after, either. Or the day after that.
It took us six days to reach Munich. While I felt adventurous, walking over the mountains, Aysha looked disbelieving. When the police confiscated our passports, only I got mine back.
As it stands, Aysha, Sham and Bisan are safe. She’s due to give birth in January, and I plan to visit her before then. But there are four million more Ayshas. They’re not terrorists, and they’re not trying to take your jobs. They’re just scared and alone. And they’ve got their own stories to tell.’
All photos by Georgios Makkas.