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What it’s like to be a refugee in the ‘Jungle’

A Hungarian photographer was volunteering on the Serbian border when she met two brothers existing in a limbo between their hopes and their reality

One shot can change the minds of the world. We saw it with the now-infamous image of the young Syrian boy, lying face down on a beach in Turkey. That photo polarised the refugee crisis, from newspaper headlines to personal opinions, but most importantly, it humanised it by making it feel like it could have been anyone’s child. The refugee crisis might be the defining point of 2015, but sadly it will also carry on well into the new year. This past summer, Hungarian-born, London-based photographer Andi Galdi Vinko went home for a photo shoot, but decided to stay on and help volunteer in any way she could. The first day she arrived, 71 refugees were found dead in the back of a lorry on the border of Hungary and Austria. From there, she travelled to Subotica, on the border of Serbia, and met two brothers exisiting in a limbo between their hopes and their reality.

“These two brothers – in their early 20s – were traveling with a group of another 15 people from Pakistan, and some Syrians, all of them had lived in camps in Turkey. They were travelling with literally nothing, and they were stuck in this place in Subotica called ‘the Jungle’, this old brick factory. Sometimes people stay two or three weeks there, waiting for the smugglers to come and take them. These people were actually stuck there because a fake smuggler, or someone, took their money and never came to pick them up, so they were waiting for some other people to send them more money to keep on tryiny – costing them about 500 euros each.

The brothers were so happy and smiley, and that’s the thing about the whole refugee crisis I saw, everybody I talked to was super positive, super smiley, super hopeful. They were in groups, laughing all the time, they were like ‘Oh, I’m going to keep walking. There’s no other way, there’s no return’.

“Suddenly somebody tells you that you need to go to another country, because that’s where you’re going to be safe, and you see your neighbours going and you think ‘Maybe we should be going too’” – Andi Galdi Vinko

I think it’s really important that they are holding each other; it’s very intimate, the pose, and the fact that one of the boys is covering his face. To me, it’s kind of like it could be anybody – you don’t know their identity. At the same time, a lot of them don’t want to be captured in a photo, because if they settle somewhere and they do well, they don’t want to be identified as a refugee who has been brought in by a smuggler.

A lot of these people got accused, like how do they have Nike shoes, how do they have all these smart phones... they’re not poor people! They have to go. A lot of them have been threatened, they’ve had a bomb land on their house, their whole family died and one kid survived – I’ve never seen so many kids under 18. A lot of families leave and take the neighbour’s kid, it’s just insane. I’ve seen a woman give birth on the tracks because they leave four or five months pregnant. Suddenly somebody tells you that you need to go to another country, because that’s where you’re going to be safe, and you see your neighbours going and you think ‘Maybe we should be going too’, but you’re insecure. A lot of people that I met were travelling as the first person from their family, trying to find a job, trying to find an apartment, trying to figure out what is happening in Europe and why people tell them it’s so good there.

To me, coming from a good country, moving to a better country, in between London and New York, constantly travelling, having a high life and complaining about shit – complaining about ‘Oh, my phone is dying, I need a new charger’, like that’s my biggest problem? And I don’t know what that means. To us, a phone dying is a problem because you're not connected to the internet for like a second. But for these people, when they’re stuck in the Jungle and they don’t have their phone charger, that’s real shit (to deal with). Because then they don’t get the messages with all the information. It can change their life. That’s what they need, they need information, and no one really gives them information.

It’s tricky (now, to follow the situation) because I was there every day and and now I’m just catching up on it on the news. But what I understood is that a lot of these people actually stayed in Turkey for years – years! Because they were hoping they could go back, so they left their parents behind, like these two kids, they left their mothers there. They were showing me photos of their mother saying ‘We don’t know if we’ll see our mother again, we don’t know’.

See more work from Vinko below: