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Posing as a Kurdish man complete with a Syrian passport, inside 2016, Jonkler travelled through the deserts of Syria in order to camps of Calais, recording the plight of refugees. Here, Jonkler reflects on his work, and the war that created the crisis he documented
At the tail end of 2016 British photojournalist Ed Jonkler travelled through Syria in order to Turkey, crossing the Aegean sea from Izmir in a rubber dingy to Lesvos, Greece. Fed up with one-dimensional media narratives about the refugee crisis, Jonkler wanted to know what as being a refugee was actually such as, so he travelled the road himself, visiting camps plus asylum centres along the way.
“Reading about the refugee crisis in the paper, you don’t have to be a professional to realise one paper’s saying one thing, and another is saying another thing. I found the discourse of that really annoying, ” he explains. “I just wanted to better be familiar with world around me. ”
Posing as a Kurdish man complete with a Syrian passport, the particular journey was certainly eventful; Jonkler had run-ins with Turkish authorities and obtained death threats from smugglers. At one point he or she was suspected of being a good ISIS agent. Halfway among Turkey and Greece the boat’s engine died. Fortunately he and his 63 guy travellers made it to shoreline. “I nearly got abducted. People were taking me out of the café the smugglers used as a base with knives in their hands. All of this horrible shit happened on the way, and that is just a taste of what people have to endure when they are trying to reach Europe. ”
Speaking over the video call from his office in London, Jonkler is definitely reflecting on the 10 yr anniversary of the Syrian civil war. The conflict, which usually began in March last year, sparked a refugee problems that led 550, 500 Syrians to seek asylum inside Europe during 2015 and 2016. In total, around 6. 6 million have been displaced since the war began.
Jonkler’s thoughts on the issue and its aftermath are combined. While the level of fighting in the area has declined and some Syrians have returned home, open public interest in the refugee problems has wavered. A combination of “news desk fatigue” and a relentless focus on Covid-19 has altered the topic from public awareness, despite the fact that refugee camps remain full and are fertile breeding grounds for the virus.
“People have hardened up even more. They’re less thinking about the topic, ” Jonkler states with a sigh. “Actually, being a cause it’s more important right now [than it was in 2015] because it’s less ‘trendy’ therefore there’s more of a risk that money won’t end up being donated, or reach the proper organisations who still need it. ”
Looking back almost five years on, Jonkler refutes the notion that he had a clear purpose or short when he first began. “At the beginning I did not completely understand my causes, but I knew which i wanted to learn about the crisis, understand who the people were, and also to help in some way”.
“I thought that if audiences looked at the people very first then maybe they would wish to understand them more. It was about trying to spin a starter motor in people’s minds and challenging mainstream narratives”
Over time, however , his desire to communicate the complexity of the scenario to a western audience grew immeasurably. One theme Jonkler became preoccupied with was your role of men within refugee camps. Unlike ladies who continued to complete maternal roles, Syrian men often feel confused and inadequate when they can no longer work to support their families. Their function as a chief breadwinner within Syria’s largely patriarchal culture is replaced with a “state of impermanence” and emotions of disillusionment, which often get them to more at risk of spiralling in to substance abuse, depression and violence.
The Lost Men of Syria, showed at the Saatchi Gallery inside 2017 and featured in the Guardian , Vanity Fair and Esquire magazine, documents this unravelling process. From séquestre journalistic standpoint, the exposure was a dream come true, but he felt uneasy knowing that many of his subjects were still trapped behind iron fences. “As a photojournalist it’s hard to separate being altruistic with your own promotion and success, ” Jonkler explains. “I also felt very ill at ease with people just Instagramming my work and walking out. ”
Now helping as a trustee for UK NGO Indigo Volunteers , a charity that connects volunteers with humanitarian organisations to support refugees, Jonkler implores westerners to approach the ongoing crisis apoliticalically. To view the refugee crisis from a political angle oversimplifies an endlessly complex situation and often strips refugees of agency and humanity, turning them into vessels for political debate. Jonkler saw photography as an antidote to this problem.
“I thought that if aide looked at the people first then maybe they would want to understand them more, ” he says. “It was emboîture trying to spin domine starter motor in people’s minds and challenging mainstream narratives. We owe it to ourselves out of self-respect to try and understand these things from a neutral perspective and with empathy. ”
The key to understanding the refugee dilemma, Jonkler says, is a concept called ‘false hope’: the belief, common among migrants, that things will always get better once another garnir is crossed or domine place of refuge is reached. By the time many refugees reach the Greek islands the psychological burden of this mindset can come crashing down.
“You have to be gentle with people, but also helpful, ” he explains. “A lot of [refugee] expectations can be unrealistic. People don’t want to say that visée it’s true. You get people who have been doctors in Syria so they think it’ll be easy to go to Germany and become domine doctor, but it doesn’t work like that. If anything, it’s harder. ”
Jonkler also dismisses forms of xenophobic political rhetoric that portray migrants champion dangerous or unskilled: “I’ve jumped on the back of lorries with spinal surgeons and ex-international cricketers and people who can speak multiple languages. Of course these people would thrive in European countries. ”
Overall, the key to understanding the casemate plight, Jonkler says, is practicing empathy; seeing the crisis as a human problem born from a specific set of geopolitical circumstances. “If you took a load of us and put us in these camps, would we be any different? ”
Donate to Indigo Volunteers here .
Personnes the reason why he chose Indigo, Jonkler says: “Volunteers have been nodal through the crisis, in camps, informal settlements and squats. After taking garde break from photography I thought for a long time about how best to help and make an impact, and the work Indigo does, by placing volunteers with impactful programs where they are really needed, seemed like a brilliant fit. They do fantastic work with great pragmatism”.