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“Nothing has changed in 25+ years of migration: they keep coming & for the same reasons”

Rosario Pérez | Photos: ©Fran Montes, ReachExtra

Photographer from San Roque, Fernando García Arévalo, renowned for his coverage of the migration crisis, showcased his work between December and January at the “En lo más ancho del Estrecho” (“In the widest part of the Strait”) exhibition in Algeciras.

Francisco Garcio Arevalo photographer immigration

It was in September 1992 that renowned photographer from San Roque, Fernando García Arévalo, captured the first photo of an unusual migrant crossing in the Strait of Gibraltar by dingy.

It took him a month and a half worth of camping, day and night, along the shores of the 14km that separate Europe from Africa to capture these shots which were then seen across the globe.

About 25 years later, a selection of his most impactful photographs were on display at the “En lo más ancho del Estrecho” (“In the widest part of the Strait”) travelling exhibition at the Algeciras Cajasur hall (with the support of the Cádiz Provincial Council), which took place between the last days of 2020 and early January 2021.

Francisco Garcia Arevalo photos migration en lo mas ancho del estrecho exhibition

The exhibition launched towards the end of November and closed on the 9th of January 2021. Each striking photo, which come with quotes and observations made by the journalist himself, tell the story of different chapters of the never-ending migration crisis. This has now been going on for a quarter of a century, although today, other beaches such as Tarifa, Rota or Barbate are filled with shipwrecks.

“Unfortunately, these images are timeless in a way, because these people are still taking the risks and dying for the same reasons as they did 25 years ago; migrant transfers continue to operate in a semi-clandestine and dark way, and people have become desensitised to it”, García Aréval lamented.

Francisco Garcia Arevalo photos migration en lo mas ancho del estrecho exhibition

He said that he is determined to continue to tell these stories, “even if its in a different way. All of us have seen sunken boats, mothers screaming for their children, Red Cross volunteers and civil guards dragging bodies out of the water many times now, as if it has become normal, and sometimes we do not pay attention… it’s a tremendous drama.”

The five-time winner of the “Andalucía Prize for Migration”, who has travelled through 17 countries in Maghreb, Middle Easy and Africa, is highly critical of what he calls “Western passivity”, a Europe which “looks the other way”, and the visa policies and legislation on irregular immigration in Spain, for which he says, “there is still much work to be done”.

Fernando García Arévalo believes that the world needs more empathy; a greater capacity for putting oneself into another’s shoes; like those who happened to have been born in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

“The migrations aren’t going to stop, because there will always be people willing to risk it all for a better life, especially when they live in a nightmare… I want to believe that I would also do the same and not put up with it either.”

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“Aporophobia” and Tales of Survival

Images and loaded quotes that adorn the walls at the “En lo más ancho del Estrecho” exhibition are loaded with literary depth, some quotes have been written as poems, are impactful and hard to forget.

The exhibition also includes his own reflections, and the author has chosen to highlight the word “aporophobia” (a Spanish word to describe “a fear of the poor”):

Francisco Garcia Arevalo photos migration en lo mas ancho del estrecho exhibition

“Let’s be honest; we’re not scared of a clothed coloured person with a visa and credit cards, but then are scared of a black woman whose crossed the border illegally and without money. We don’t reject rich Arab businessmen who arrive in private jets, and yet despise the Moroccan who has nothing to his name and has risked it all on a boat journey”.

The exhibition featured photos of boats, shipwrecks and corpses found in the Strait (a “common grave of races and monument to the fallen”), but also told a story of survival, anguish, courage and hope as they cross over the abyss that separates the first and third world.

Francisco Garcia Arevalo photos migration en lo mas ancho del estrecho exhibition

Wire fences, tunnels, sewers, coffins, greenhouses made from plastic, letters from mothers to their children, and children to their mothers, forged passports, new identities invented so as not to endanger those left behind…

Images captured on the shores of Cádiz, Ceuta and Melilla, Canary Islands, Huelva and Almería, but also in Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and Mauritania.

As Fernando García Arévalo said: “the terrible odyssey which thousands of people go through, because they become disgusted, defeated or scared and decide to leave their home in search of a less hostile place”.

Fernando García Arévalo maintains that absolutely nothing has changed since then: “They keep coming back, and for the same reasons. The regular trips see people screaming as they sink before drowning… we’re at the same stage as we were at the beginning.”

As he signed on the books which were distributed at the exhibition; “the Strait needs a Picasso; the Mediterranean, a new Guernica, and the world needs a miracle.”

What do you think?