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The Refugee Crisis, by Antonio Olmos

1 September 2017

In September 2015 I was sent by the Guardian to cover the refugee crisis in the Balkans. I started by going to Budapest where thousands of refugees were stranded around the Main Train Station after the Hungarian government closed the borders.

I was sitting in London kinda depressed I wasn’t covering the biggest story of the day when the phone call came. And when I arrived I wasn’t prepared for the scale of the numbers of people involved. I am an immigrant twice over. As a teenager I went to the United States and then I came to the UK where I have lived over 20 years. So I am very sympathetic to the plight of refugees regardless of why they chose to make the journey. The vast majority where Syrians fleeing the civil war in their own country but they were joined by many Afghans and Iraqis. Occasionally we even saw Africans who somehow avoided the Mediterranean route. After a week the Hungarians eventually decided that Budapest couldn’t handle so many people stranded so they opened the border. Patrick Kingsley and I then moved south to document the flow into Hungary from Serbia. The Hungarians decided to build a fence and we watched as thousands made their way along abandoned railway tracks before they were prevented from crossing.

As the refugees moved north we moved south, covering the migrant trail from Serbia all the way down to the Greek border with Macedonia. The sheer numbers of people on the move was truly biblical. I felt unable to make an image that grasped the scale of what I was witnessing. The image you are seeing was taken on my last day after a month of non-stop reporting. I was photographing thousands of people waiting for a train to take them out of the Greek-Macedonian crossing at Gevgelija. It had rained heavily the whole day and everyone was drenched including myself. I could see that no matter how hard I tried to keep my cameras dry I was losing the battle and they kept turning off and failing when they were on. I saw a little Syrian boy crying from the misery he and his family were enduring as they tried to get to Germany. My cameras went dead soon after I made the image. And soon after that some Macedonian police tried to arrest me and confiscate my gear. They wanted to see the images I had made and of course I couldn’t get the cameras to work to show them. Finally I gave them empty Compact Flash cards to satisfy them. They believed I was making their country look bad. Back in the hotel my cameras came back on. They still work to this day. I was done regardless and soon headed to catch a plane back to London. I am still extremely grateful I had the opportunity to document the crisis. I really hated leaving and going back to London.

Antonio Zazueta Olmos is a Photojournalist who has worked covering issues concerning Human Rights, The Environment and Conflict. He has worked extensively in the Americas, The Middle East and Africa for Newspapers and Magazines around the world as well as leading NGOs.

Antonio was born in Mexicali, Mexico in 1963. He studied Photojournalism at California State University, Fresno until 1988. Antonio began his career at the Miami Herald in 1988 where he was a staff photographer for 3 years. He moved to Mexico City in 1991 to become a freelance photographer from where he covered news stories in Central America and the Caribbean for the Black Star Photo Agency. Antonio has been based in London since 1994 and is represented by the Eyevine Photo Agency. Antonio was the recipient of a First Place Award in the World Press for the People in The News Category for his work in the Palestinian Occupied Territories in 2001.  Antonio has worked in conflict zones in Northern Ireland, Haiti, Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Angola.  In 2013 “The Landscape of Murder” was published by Dewi Lewis , a project which documented every murder site in the city of London in 2011 and 2012.

Antonio is also an editorial portrait photographer whose photographic portraits have been published in all the UK Broadsheets weekend supplements as well as magazines and newspapers all over the world. His portraits has been exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery, Canadas National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian and Oslo’s Nobel Prize Museum..

See more work by Antonio Olmos

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