“The people behind the border” by Sitara Thalia Ambrosio
Far from the public gaze, Bihać, a small town in north-western Bosnia-Herzegovina, has become a focal point of migration to Europe. Since February 2021 approximately 300 to 400 young refugees live in several abandoned buildings across Bihać, stranded during the attempt to cross into the European Union. People search for alternatives to official camps that are overcrowded, in horrendous conditions and set up in remote areas.
In 2021 the two biggest self-organized shelters in Bihać are an old paper factory and an unfinished retirement home, called „Dom Penzionera“. The shells are in a very bad condition with no windows, electricity or running water. Heating and cooking is only possible with open fire. The inhabitants are mostly left on their own, as aid work is criminalized, with just a few inhabitants of Bihać and international activists secretly supporting them. Most of the young men that live here have tried to reach Croatia numerous times. Often they are stopped by the Croatian authorities and violently deported back to Bosnia. Some even report, having gone to “the game”, as they call the attempt to cross the border, up to thirteen times. Very little is known about the people forced to live behind the border, their fears, what they experienced and what they wish for.
Therefore, the concept of the project is, to let the people who are affected, participate in the representation of the situation. Handwritten letters are juxtaposed with portraits in front of a neutral background, so the poor conditions they live in do not distract from their faces and words. This is an attempt to counteract the dehumanization they are exposed to every day. The people were given as much time as they wanted to decide what and how much they wished to share. The surrounding images additionally show the reality of their everyday life.
“The people behind the border” is a long-term documentary project and an attempt to shine light on the harsh conditions that people face, attempting to enter the European Union.The photographic essay was created in connection with a multimedia project (KANDVALA) that has been awarded with the renowned “Grimme Online Award” in 2022. The pictures were taken in February 2021 and January 2022.