The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Being a refugee is one of the most vulnerable positions in which you could find yourself – to be torn from your own life, suddenly displaced, with a painful sense of loss, frightened from the unknown and uncertainty and worried about family and friends who remain in the conflict zones. A refugee is a person who needs help. And there should be no room for thinking about where that person comes from, what is the color of their skin, what language they speak and to which God they send their prayers. If you see someone drowning, would you jump in the water immediately and decisively? Many NGOs and many individuals, initiatives and volunteers are in this water up to their necks.
Unfortunately, as if the hell these vulnerable and displaced people went through and from which they have fled was not enough, these Syrians and Iraqis, Afghans and Nigerians are ‘welcomed’ by Europeans with barbed wire, tear gas, walls and detention centres. Police are forgetting that their main purpose should be to protect people and not borders.
It was at the end of August 2015 when I visited Belgrade, Serbia, wherein I spent some days talking with people who had arrived as refugees, photographing them and listening to their stories in the park next to the central station.
“If we had stayed, we would be dead. I just want some sort of future for my children. Everyday, everyday in Syria, just bombs, bombs, bombs. The children were crying everyday, and now they are very happy. You see … “, says Hussein who had arrived with his family from Syria as he points to the smiling faces of his children sitting on the ground around the tent. After he repeated several times: “Thanks Europe for taking us in!”, I was tempted for a moment to tell him something about the neo-Nazis who are attacking and burning down shelters for refugees or about the Hungarian right-wing prime minister but somehow I couldn’t. I didn’t want to kill his optimism and faith. I just hoped that, as his journey continued, he finds more brothers who are ready to help, and less wolves – either smugglers ready to take advantage of those misfortunate ones or politicians who don’t see people but problems and numbers. As we continue to talk, he showed me a picture of his dead brother, who was shot in the head. It became crystal clear to me: These people have no way for retreat. The price they pay for this one-way trip is very high, their choices are starkly scarce – to stay and surely die or go and try to live.
Shortly after, when a beautiful Persian instrument – barbat (kind of a lute) was brought by one of the volunteers, Hussein took the instrument and started playing. A few other people joined him with various percussive instruments. Eventually, people from whole park started gathering and clapping. Some of them were singing, four started to dance. In the middle of the park that night you could see only smiling faces and at least for a few moments these people forgot the horrors that they have gone through. It was trying to catch those moments with my camera. Unlike many other photos that are documenting the despair and sadness of the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War – pictures that can break your heart – most of my shots are full of life, joy and optimism.
While I was leaving Belgrade, I was thinking about the wise thoughts of Bosnian writer, Meša Selimović: “There are more good people in the world than evil. Much more! Only the evil are heard farer and felt harder. Good are silent.” (translation: I. K.) It is about time that good people not only speak, but scream… Empathy, solidarity and action we need today almost as much as we need air.