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To the North

To mark World Refugee Day, Enri Canaj reflects on more than a decade documenting Europe's ongoing migrant crisis

Enri Canaj

Enri Canaj Ibrahim, 26, and Mohammed, 28, from Ghana. Ibrahim has lived since 2016 in Casserta and works in the agriculture sector. What he earns is much lower than the legal minimum under Italian law. Casse (...)
Enri Canaj Goffat, a new gold-mine 15 km from the city center, where locals and migrants work. They get paid only if they find gold, otherwise they only get a meal per day. Agadez. Niger. 2019. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Reaching Northern Macedonia. Greece borders. 2015 . © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj A Syrian mother holds her 4-month-old baby just after crossing the sea border between Turkey and Greece by boat — arriving at Inousa, Greece. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj K., 10 years old, from Iraq, spends his days in bed because cannot walk. His family has been stranded in Athens for 2 years, after a rejected asylum claim. Greece. 2017. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj | 002 P., 22 years old, was trafficked from Nigeria and obliged to work as a sex worker for more than a year. She managed to escape with the help of her current boyfriend and now they live together in an (...)
Enri Canaj A volunteer distributes food to refugees near the village Idomeni, Greece, near the border with Macedonia. March 2016. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj A Nigerian woman holding her 2 months years old son who was born in Italy. Ghetto area. Foggia. Italy. 2018. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj A small boat with refugees and migrants reached safely the greek coast. It was hard getting out the boat because of the bad sea. Mytilene. Lesbos. Greece. October 2015. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Asylum seekers queue to register at the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, as numbers rose rapidly because of a backlog caused by a ferry strike trapping migrants on the island. Lesbos. Greece. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj The first housing, after the camp. Germany. 2018. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Forest at night. An area where many asylum seekers are sheltered. Germany. 2018. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Mother and son in their afternoon stroll in rural Serbia. They left Kabul running away from abuse, and reached Greece in April 2016. After nine months at the Elaionas camp in Athens, they tried to (...)
Enri Canaj Sadi, 19, from Syria with his German girlfriend and their friends at the metro station where they hang out and party. Berlin, Germany. 2018. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Ahmed 6 years old from Afghanistan. While leaving illegaly the Balkans he and his family had a tragic accident in Serbia. He lost his grandmother and his mothers legs were amputated twice. From a y (...)
Enri Canaj Dasmouen from Ghana, working as a butcher at the migrant camp known as the "Runway Ghetto”. Preparing goat meat to sell in the evening. Near Borgo Mezzanone. Foggia. Italy. 2018. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Refugees on Inousa, identified through a thermal camera from the Greek Coast Guard ship. Greece. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Deported migrants stranded in Agadez. The house provides abode to 45 men and women from Nigeria, Liberia and Mali. Niger. 2019. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj The Macedonian authorities closed the border between Greece and Macedonia. At the greek-macedonian border. Idomeni. Greece. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Transgender Hamudi sought refuge in Sweden after facing persecution in Syria and Turkey. Sweden. 2018. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Celine 16 years old from Chemnitz, Germany. Since one year, she is in a relationship with Raffat, a refugee from Syria. ‘’ My stepfather doesn’t like Raffat and he forbids me to have contacts with (...)
Enri Canaj At the Moria camp, refugees sleep outdoors in freezing temperatures. Lesbos. Greece. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Inside a refugee camp. Paris, France. 2018  © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Suman, 15 years old, from Gambia, walking with his dog Jonick, on the way back to the CARA refugee camp at Borgo Mezzanone. Italy. 2018. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Refugees stand in line for food in Idomeni. Greece. 2016. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Leaving beyond Greece. Idomeni, Northen Greece. 2015. © Enri Canaj | Magnum Photos
Enri Canaj Ahmed, 6 years old, from Afghanistan in his new house in Sweden, looking at the playground outside their window. After a long and difficult journey, he has picked up words in Urdu, Arabic, Greek, S (...)

In 2009 Albanian-born Magnum photographer Enri Canaj started photographing various migrant communities in Athens, his own adopted hometown. Then, in 2013, he started working more intensively on documenting Europe’s unfurling migrant crisis, initially focusing upon the waves of people arriving along the coastlines of various EU nations. Today, the ongoing project has seen Canaj create work in 14 countries across the African and European continents – documenting maritime, desert, urban and mountain routes of migration, as well as the lives of individuals at various points along those routes.

“I have photographed different stages of peoples’ journeys,” Canaj says, “From the arrival in a new land, and the first few months or years of settling-in, to the beginning of new lives and families in a destination country. On top of that, I have been looking at those still waiting on the other side, who maintain hopes and dreams; as well as those who have decided to go back home, defeated by having seen no chances or opportunities for them to continue lives in nations where they feel unaccepted. Finally, there are those forced to go back to their homelands. Until governments come up with cohesive policies that might address the needs of people on the move, mass migration will remain a global concern.”

Canaj continues, “Over all these years, in spite of seeing the exhaustion and loss of hope by migrants in the face of harsh conditions along the journey, or in various camps with no facilities and little safety, what I truly believe is most needed, and most important, is for people to feel treated with dignity and respect: to provide the conditions in which the heart can feel life’s warmth again.”

To mark UNHCR’s World Refugee Day we share Enri Canaj’s selection of images (above) spanning his 11 years of work on migration, covering a range of nations and years. The sequence of the images traces a global route, south to north, reflecting the journey undertaken by so many tens of thousands to date.

Below is Canaj’s own statement on the work.

This is a series of passages from the world as it is, toward a world imagined.

I started depicting Europe’s refugee influx from 2013 onward, and now have followed it backward and forward — from the south and the crisis’ root causes, through the perilous crossings in Africa, to the north and the numerous final destinations around Europe …from the dust that covers the journey, to the unmapped territories of possibility.

In this work, I moved away from the urge to document history-in-the-making, toward the minute stories of everyday life and the hesitant first steps in new, often unwelcoming places. From fear to hope, and everything in-between: the uncertainty of liminal places, the new paces, the impetus and the impulse of moving ahead. Alongside this: something that lies underneath this whole range of emotions, something palpable and raw that cannot be put in words, but only be traced along one’s own lifeline. I trace it along my own and hold onto it.

The stories of the people decode my own, their piercing gazes illuminate dark times, their strength and resilience emerge, thrusting forward. Nothing more, nothing less, than cracks of light, leaps of faith and the capacity to conceive a future possible.

You can read more about Canaj’s work on migration here, and see his documentation of Italy’s infamous Hotel House here. More information on World Refugee Day can be found here.