As refugees from West Africa are placed throughout Europe and specifically Italy, the ongoing intricacies of the process call for innovative solutions. One of those solutions is finding new places to house and shelter migrants. For a group of 60 migrants from West Africa, that new place is a series of villages in the Dolomites, a southeastern section of the Italian Alps.
Italian photographer Michele Amaglio heard about their story, but wanted to see the scenario for himself. He reached out to Cadore s.c.s. Cooperative, the organization that helped prep this particular group for the process of asylum-seekers. "This isn't a new thing really, but nobody's really documented it before," he tells Creators. "You hear more often about Syrian refugees in other parts of the world, but it's African migrants that Italy receives most often. The cooperatives are the groups that do the work of trying to place them." After a few days of correspondence, the villages invited him to visit. "I was lucky," he tells us. "It's not always simple or permitted to photograph this kind of thing."
The 24-year-old artist didn't take his camera with him the first few times he traveled to the mountain towns. Amaglio began by visiting once or twice a week, driving an hour-and-a-half out of his home in Venice just to get to know the locals. In January, he stayed a full five days, camera in hand. Welcome to Rasta Garden is his photographic account of that time.
"At first I was just trying to get an understanding of how much they were willing to share. As soon as they understood that I wasn't there to speculate or exploit their experience, they opened up." While he was eager to hear their stories, he was more intent on documenting the current aspects and fullness of their new life in the cold. "I spent more time focusing on their strange present situation: these are Africans now living in the Alps. I was interested in capturing some of the landscape as well. I didn't want to be the kind of photojournalist that would just go in and exploit their pains."
Amaglio visually captured the migrants' new lives and some surprising stories. Camara is a 33-year-old carpenter who made furniture in The Gambia before he was forced to leave for Europe. Thanks to his new neighbor Fabio, who shares recycled material with him, he is able to continue his craft.
"There are these stereotypes about people who live in the mountains as being sort of closed-minded and not really trusting people 'from the city,'" Amaglio tells us. "But that wasn't the case. I found shockingly open-minded people who really wanted to work together with them. Their approach is kind—they treat them like peers and siblings in their town. They don't treat them too formally like business colleagues, but they're not taking on any pity personas of 'let's help these poor people who can't help themselves.' It's a great atmosphere."
Amaglio wants to go on to document more refugee placement projects."They actually have started to do these kinds of initiatives all around the Alps. So if my project is well-received, I might go on to explore the rest of them."
To see more from Michele Amaglio visit his website.