Destination Europe

PhotographerJASON FLORIO
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

For the past two years I was embedded with the first search and rescue NGO, Migrant Offshore Aid Station, who operate rescue ships to save the lives of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean and Aegean. Before MOAS, I was based in Gambia, one of the major source countries for African migrants trying to find a better life in Europe. Rarely a week passed when I heard news of yet another migrant boat sinking in the Mediterranean, and Gambian friends losing relatives in the tragedy. I was initially assigned to document MOAS for three weeks onboard their ship. On this first mission they not only rescued Syrians and Somalis escaping war, Nigerians escaping persecution, but Gambians as well, including Abdoulie, the son of a friend of mine in Gambian. I was soon emotionally invested in the story, and I stayed on to make multiple missions over the next two years

Story

For the past two years (2015-16), I was embedded with the first search and rescue NGO, Migrant Offshore Aid Station, to operate rescue ships specifically to save the lives of migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. Prior to working with MOAS, I was based in The Gambia, West Africa, from 2013-15. During that time, rarely a day went by without hearing about someone who had left or who had died at sea trying to take “the back way”—as the illegal route to Europe is colloquially called. I was assigned to document MOAS’s lifesaving missions off the coast of Libya and in the Aegean. Initially, it was just an assignment, but quite soon we were rescuing not only Syrians, Somalis, and Nigerians fleeing conflict, but many Gambians escaping a dictatorship and grinding poverty. My work quickly began to take on an added role when, in the first group of Gambians we rescued, I met 18-year-old Abdoulie, the son of a friend of mine back in The Gambia. These close connections with rescued Gambians continued to happen. Whenever possible, I would call their relatives back in The Gambia from onboard the rescue ship to let them know their loved ones were now safe. My initial embed was for three weeks, but I was soon emotionally invested in the story, and I stayed on to make multiple sea missions over the next two years. I am now focusing my work on the effects of mass migration in source countries including The Gambia and European host countries.

About Photographer

Jason Florio is a NYC based photographer and writer from London. For the past 10 years he has worked as a freelance photojournalist around the globe for publications including The New Yorker, New York Times, Outside, Liberation and The Times of London, working on stories that attempt to reveal the unseen and to provide an alternative point of view on people and places. At the beginning of his career he had the dubious recognition of being one of the last photographers in Afghanistan to photograph the anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Masoud in August 2001, who was assassinated by Al Queda operatives on September 9th, then to be at the foot of the World Trade Center on September 11th as it collapsed. Since then he has returned to Central Asia a number of times on both personal journeys and assignments. Whether it’s bat hunting in Suriname or searching for pirates in Somalia he is most at home away from home and immersed into a story. Florio spent the last 3 months of 2009 making a 930 km expedition by foot of The Gambia, West Africa to produce a series of portraits of African chiefs for which in part he was given fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society in London. The Gambia has been a place Florio regularly returns to. For the past 12 years he has made yearly trips there to work on a long term large format portrait project of the people that live in and around a sacred forest there called Makasutu - The culminating body of work was shown in New York in 2009 in a solo exhibition and the work won a Black and White magazine Spotlight Award, as well as garnering him a nomination for the Santa Fe prize. Florio was awarded the Joy of Giving Something grant in 2004 to produce the first ever assigned story for Aperture in their 50 year history, called ‘This is Libya’, which is now part of the permanent collection of The Forward Thinking Museum. His work on Afghanistan is in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York, as well as a number of private collections. Between magazine assignments and photographing for NGO’s this year he is planning another expedition to West Africa to retrace the journey of his hero, Scottish explorer Mungo Park, who went in search of the source of the Niger River 200 years ago.