This Is What It's Like to Photograph Refugees in Europe

A firsthand account from 21-year-old photojournalist and filmmaker Harrison Bruhn.

by Harrison Bruhn
Jan 15 2016, 7:30pm

All images courtesy Harrison Bruhn

Harrison Bruhn is a 21-year-old freelance photojournalist and filmmaker who recently captured our attention with An Unnatural Union, a series of photographs of refugees' abandoned belongings, taken in Europe. Today, VICE presents a selection of images from Bruhn alongside a firsthand account of his experiences, which you can read below, only on The Creators Project. 


“Land here!” “You need to turn. Turn now! Cut the engines!” “Doctor! She’s pregnant!”

Spotlights beaming in the dark against the Aegean Sea. Voices vibrating through megaphones. Waves crashing against the rocky shore. The crying echoes of men, women, and children. Volunteers racing forward. Possessions ripped out of plastic wrapping. Phone calls telling loved ones they’ve made it. These are not scenes from a film, but each one a recurring sound on the Greek Island of Lesvos.

My fixer and I raced down the dirt roads of Skala Sikaminias under the moonlight, trying our best to avoid dropping down the 100' cliffs into the black void below. The first boat pulled up as we jumped out of the car. My fixer suddenly grabbed my shoulder “Are you ready?” We had done interviews all throughout the week in Turkey, but this, this was madness. The water becoming alive with foot traffic. Watching as 35 human beings escape a near-sinking raft. Though, it wasn’t the boat they were escaping, it was their past lives. The first man got off the boat, a refugee from Afghanistan, staggering past me as he dropped to his knees, kissing the ground repeatedly. Something that had become a common scene. To my right a father and his family stand anxiously before my lens, staring straight through me. How much were they able to pack with them? Did they know they might never be able to go back to their city? A light flashed to my left inside the stationary bus hospital. Something you would only see in a Mad Max film.

The man approached me. “Where do we go?” he asked hesitantly. I put the camera down to my hip and said “Camp Moria.” “Where do we go to sleep?” 

I look around at the mass of volunteers.

“Here!” pointing at a man who seemed to be in charge as I slowly backed away in awe.

Face after face whisks by me. I try to capture their emotions as best I can. A woman lay lifeless inside a black dinghy boat. Checking for her pulse, volunteers pick her up and place her upon the shore. An older woman slowly approaches, eyes immersed with tears and sadness falling to the ground, clutching the cold body. The older woman shaking her daughter’s face attempting to wake her from the dead. Is this real? What are we witnessing? An arm unexpectedly rises in the air towards her mother. She could have died, I thought, snapping my last shot. Hearing stories of children watching their parents explode in front of them. Shrapnel causing permanent paralysis. 16-year-olds killing. Snipers, extortion, kidnapping and torturing.

I am only 21 years old and have trouble just witnessing this all. How are these people so strong? How do they believe in hope this much? The world needs to see what is going on.

This is why I am here.

Head over to VICE to see the rest of of Harrison Bruhn's photos. 

Visit Harrison Bruhn's website for more. 


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