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'Interior Itineraries': Paris photo exhibition shows migrants at home

© Bruno Fert

Text by Guillaume GUGUEN

Latest update : 2017-01-07

A new photo exhibition that opened Thursday in Paris takes us inside the dwellings of some of the thousands of migrants who set up camp in the “jungle” of Calais, in Grande-Synthe in northern France and in Greece's Katsikas.

In “Itinéraires intérieurs” (Interior Itineraries), photographer Bruno Fert takes us inside the makeshift homes that migrants have created while waiting to be granted permanent asylum in the West.

With walls bearing the logo of the Bradford City football club and a Union Jack pinned over the bed, one dwelling looks like the room of a typical British teenager. Fouad left Deraa, Syria, in 2015 to try to reach Great Britain. But like thousands of exiles with the same ambition, his journey was halted in Calais at the edge of the English Channel.

Fouad, 26, was in the Calais camp for a little more than a year before it was dismantled last October. He lived in one of the wooden shelters built on the site by Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF). Fouad has tried to cross the Channel several times and once thought he was close to reaching his goal. After clandestinely climbing aboard a truck, he travelled for several hundred hours before discovering that the vehicle was headed to Spain.

Fert fleshes out Fouad’s journey with just a few lines of text, but it is the images that really tell his story. In a photograph of the orderly interior where Fouad resided for many months, the tranquility that emerges contradicts the usual narrative of misery and chaos commonly associated with “the jungle".

"The migrants’ situation is usually associated with misery, but in the end it is European politicians who have created this misery by blockading people in these places," Fert said. “We can see, above all, that these people are well organised, that they are not people who have let anything go."

Relics of a life left behind

The photo exhibition, which runs until January 15 at the Point Ephémère in Paris, seeks to tell the stories of these migrants. Fert, in partnership with MSF, presents some 15 photographs of the places that have served as temporary homes for the Syrian, Kurdish, Sudanese, Pakistani or Eritrean migrants detained in the French camps of Calais and Grande-Synthe or in the Katsikas camp in Greece.

The photos are simple but full of detail: a deck of cards abandoned mid-game, cuddly toys laid out on a well-made bed. "Someone’s dwelling offers information about his standard of living, his financial means, his level of education and his interests," said Fert. "In camps like Calais, where adversity prevails, the small huts in which migrants live are the last place where they still have some privacy, some gentleness and relics of their past lives."

Abdallah, once a grocer in his native Afghanistan, naturally set up a small shop in his Calais shelter. Others have established hairdressing salons or a restaurant such as The Three Fools, which has become a meeting place for migrants, humanitarians and journalists.

A Kuwaiti Bedouin who arrived in France at the age of 18, Ali has created a colourful cocoon where Spider-Man figures rub shoulders with posters of the Power Rangers.

"He was proud to show off his shelter, because for him it was his first house," said Fert. "As a Bedouin he had always lived in a tent, and it is as if he has built the childhood room that he never had."

Mobile phones and barrel ovens 

Although each dwelling remains unique, some objects are found in almost all of them. Beds and kitchen utensils, mobile phones, chargers and additional batteries have become indispensable – and not just to call relatives. "When I asked migrants for family photos, they did not have any but they showed them to me on Instagram," Fert said. "In reality, migrants do not have many objects from their past lives. To cross the Mediterranean it is necessary to travel light … In these houses one mainly sees the objects distributed in the camps.”

Fert said that in Katsikas, for example, one migrant served him coffee on an orange tray that was in fact the lid of a kit provided by the UN High Commission for Refugees. In Calais, one often found ovens or stoves made from car wheels or barrels.

With the dismantling of the jungle, migrants had to leave behind their homes for a second time.

"I was told that some people had burned their houses before leaving, like a farewell ceremonial,” Fert said. “I am still in contact with some of the people I photographed, and when they talk about Calais there is a lot of nostalgia – it became their capital."

Interior Itineraries runs from 2pm-7pm until January 15 at the Point Ephémère, 200 Quai de Valmy, in the 10th arrondissement (district) of Paris.

This article was translated from the original in French.


Date created : 2017-01-07


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