Yuri Kozyrev


By reporting on the refugee crisis, journalists are helping to give migrants an identity. We’re helping to remove the perception that the crowds are an ‘unnamed threat’ reaching European shores.

Stories to be Told

About The European Mass Migration Crisis

We are witnessing the largest movement of people since the Second World War. Although many are migrants seeking a better life, most are refugees escaping persecution in their own countries in the Middle East and Africa. Following the migrant trail from Turkey through to Greece, the Balkans and Hungary, Yuri Kozyrev documents their resilience in the face of demeaning hardship as they travel for over a thousand miles by land and sea.

Q: Why was this a story you needed to tell?

The refugee crisis dominated the news in 2015. Almost three million people claimed asylum in the European Union in 2015 and 2016, but the manner of their arrival was chaotic and thousands died in the attempt.
It is one of the greatest humanitarian crises the globe has ever known, and one of the largest mass migrations into Europe since World War II. For as long as wars continue, people will continue to flee them. And others will continue to try to migrate even when other countries don’t want to accept them.

Q: What surprised you most about what you were shooting?

The pace and scale of the migration is staggering and the boats keep coming every day. The Greek islands have borne the brunt of an overwhelming wave of smuggling rings from Syria, yet the coast guard never turns back an incoming boat. They try to bring the refugees safely to shore, but that can quickly turn dangerous as the traffickers can become hostile when the coast guard approaches.

Q: Which imagery encapsulates this story for you?

Nothing quite captures the scale of that summer’s migration crisis in Europe like the fields of deflated boats and life jackets scattered along the eastern islands of Greece. The beaches where tourists would normally sunbathe are practically coated with these items, sometimes stacked in mounds that could fill an Olympic swimming pool. Stare at them long enough and it’s hard to avoid an unsettling thought: someone somewhere is making a fortune selling these things.

Q: What struck you most about the migrants and refugees you were photographing?

Despite the extraordinarily difficult conditions, they never seemed to give in to despair. You might expect people to be broken by this point – after walking for days in the blistering heat or travelling a thousand miles by land and sea – but they are smiling. They are happy. The transition may be gruelling, but they’re headed to places where they can find safety and rebuild their lives. That’s what drives them: hope.

Q: How long were you in the field and which equipment were you using?

From the end of August through mid-September 2015, I followed the migrant trail from Turkey through Greece, the Balkans and Hungary, on assignment for Time magazine. I’ve been shooting with Nikon since 2008, and for this shoot I took the Nikon D810 and my favourite AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D lens.

Q: What concerns do you have about covering emotive stories like this?

When there is a major disaster, the understandable response of journalists is to rush in and find the most urgent stories as quickly as possible. It serves a necessary purpose – to tell people what the problem is, who is affected, and what help is needed. But these stories also have the potential to alienate.  At some point, people can feel overwhelmed and start to switch off. Some may even start to feel hostile, asking ‘why are we constantly being told to feel sorry for these strangers’?

Q: What would you like readers to understand about this story?

By reporting on the refugee crisis, journalists are helping to give migrants an identity. We’re helping to remove the perception that the crowds are an ‘unnamed threat’ reaching European shores. Each of the people in this mass migration is a human being. They each have their own individual stories and have gone through any number of traumas back home.

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