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News 24 Feb 17

Photo Show Highlights Plight of Serbia’s Trapped Migrants

New exhibition, ‘people at the gates’, records the grim experiences of refugees shut outside ‘fortress Europe’ - and forced to wait in Serbia.

Mirjana Narandzic

A documentary photography exhibition about the life of refugees in Serbia and also an appeal for donations, “People at the gates” by Lazara Marinković opens at the Street art gallery in Belgrade on February 24th and lasts until March 3rd.

“I never thought this dark and shameful period of history would be subject of my first solo exhibition of documentary photographs, but unfortunately, this is the moment that we live in and which emerged as very important,” the Belgrade-based journalist and photo-reporter told BIRN.

The photographs were all taken during her reporting on the migrant crisis. Marinkovic started documenting the crisis in the summer of 2015, when hundreds of people found temporary refuge on the road to the EU in parks near Belgrade bus station.

She has continued following the problems migrants face since, also documenting the conditions thousands of them endured this winter in Serbia, where many were trapped and unable to cross the Hungarian border and reach the EU.

The largest number of photographs show the life stories of these people in their self-organized camp - an abandoned depot behind Belgrade train station - and also life of people camping in parks, the reception Centre in the town of Subotica and the border-crossing point with Hungary at Kelebija.

Marinkovic said that as a witness to one of the greatest acts of human displacement since World War II, she feels a responsibility to record its reality, adding that her exhibition is also an appeal for help.

“Since beginning of the crisis and the closure of the ‘Balkan route’ [to the EU], we have seen thousands of people trapped at the gates of ‘fortress Europe’.

“Borders are fortified by barbed wire, people are violently returned back, asylum procedures are too slow, the UN Declaration about migrants is not respected and, above all, the rhetoric of European and American political leaders clearly indicates that millions of people fleeing from war persecution are [see] only as a threat and danger,” Marinkovic said.

The title of the exhibition came from a friend, the journalist Natalija Miletic, who recalled the term “Hannibal ad portas”.

“Europe and the US see the refugees as a threat; it is the same fear that the ancient Romans had for the Carthaginian military commander Hannibal. He was some sort of a bogeyman used by Roman parents to scare their unruly children,” Marinkovic said.

“Western forces must finally realize that it is not an enemy but human beings at the gates: Homines ad portas,” she added.

The photographer said the issue of refugees was often abused by politicians to spread xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism, recalling how the media in Serbia recently claimed three migrants in the town of Obrenovac had attempted to kidnap a baby, only to publish contradictory reports a few days later. These suggested that the conflict had, in fact, been provoked by two young Serbian men, accompanied by a mother.

“Donald Trump invented a terrorist attack in Sweden which he blamed on refugees a few days ago. Bild in Germany has issued an apology to its readers for publishing a fake story about a migrant gang that sexually assaulted women on New Year’s Eve,” she said.

“We live in an era of 'fake news' and ‘alternative facts’, so photography in the function of journalist reporting can have enormous significance. Nothing else is as close to reality and life, making us rethink our worldview,” Marinkovic said.

All the photographs from the exhibition are for sale and the proceedings will be donated to humanitarian organizations that are helping refugees in Belgrade.

On opening day, people can also donate warm clothes or consider supporting one of the fundraising campaigns.

“One exhibition and a series of photographs cannot change the world, but it can rally people around the idea of solidarity and humanity and inspire them to become a catalyst for change. We remember history through images,” she concluded.

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