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Search for Sanctuary

Search for Sanctuary is an intimate look at one Eritrean refugee community living in limbo on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. The aim was to construct a photographic project to measure beyond their status as refugees, rather focusing on them as individuals with unique lives and stories. Eritreans living in Ethiopia have fled a highly secretive, totalitarian regime at great personal risk; in Ethiopia they face discrimination and segregation whilst not being allowed the opportunity to work. This environment ensures many abandon hope and risk the perilous journey through Sudan and Libya for the shores of Europe.

The refugee crisis goes beyond Europe; ten countries, all of which are outside of Europe, host 50% of the world’s refugees. Still, it has been represented as an overwhelmingly European issue, grouping together millions of refugees from many different countries. Such generalisations have reduced the broader understanding of a wide-ranging yet intricate set of events for each cohort of refugees, creating a vacuum allowing for the stereotypical images of the mass movement of people to be taken out of context and used to stoke up fear and prejudice. The need is stronger than ever to re-assert the representation of refugees as individuals in order to truthfully reflect the human and global nature of this crisis.

Search for Sanctuary is centrally about allowing those being photographed to have a greater influence in their representation; a photographic project that uses the label refugee as a smoke screen to look at them as a community, their interactions and efforts taken to provide the best possible conditions for their children. The essence of this documentation is to represent the complexities of refugees’ and not simplifying them into a neat box; seeing the people in the pictures as individuals rather than being defined by their legal status’.

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The plain, white mask embodies the stereotypical and impersonal images produced en masse of refugees. The children created their own photograph, decorating over the plain white masks, adding personalisation to each image. The interactive nature of the portraiture allowed for the process of documentation to be slowed down so the subject’s character and personality defined the portraits. These children have been provided a loving and happy environment through the ingenuity and resilience of their parents against a backdrop of uncertainty and prejudice.

The solutions for Eritreans within Ethiopia are in many respects straightforward; to be given a voice and represented on the world stage. If policies change and their human rights respected, they will be given an opportunity to build a more secure and fairer future in Ethiopia, this in turn will contribute to reducing the numbers of individuals risking their lives to reach Europe.

Joshua Brown

Joshua is a photojournalist currently based in Berlin. He has an MA in International Relations from King’s College London on the conflict in Sri Lanka from 2009 with focus on the Tamil community’s struggle for justice. Upon graduating Joshua went to live in Sri Lanka to better understand the realties of life for the Tamil community in the period immediately after the civil war. In Sri Lanka, he worked as a field researcher and photojournalist for INFORM, a Human Rights Documentation Centre. His photographic work is primarily concerned with why certain events, stories and people are forgotten and using photography to counter this misrepresentation.

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