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Harraga: traveling by burning the borders

In an era in which the issue of immigration is a constant in the national and international debate, Giulio Piscitelli, a young Italian photojournalist, wanted to give the world his contribution by experiencing firsthand the harrowing fate to which all those who decide to migrate to Europe are subjected, documenting the routes of human trafficking to our continent, becoming, him first, a Harraga.

© Photo and book by Giulio Piscitelli, “Harraga: in viaggio bruciando le frontiere”

For years now, immigration has been a favorite topic of public debate in our country. Started in 2013, the migration phenomenon has increased exponentially, especially to Europe, actually opening real routes of organized human trafficking which, to date, represent the only hope of salvation for many people.

Despite the number of landings made in Italy (and, more generally, the entry of migrants into Europe)¹ since the beginning of the year has dropped significantly, for many Europeans² – including a significant number of Italians – immigration remains one of the most urgent problems perceived.

The link, in fact, migration/crime is the workhorse of several populist fronts coming from the right wing, which in recent years in Europe are increasing in number, just think of the consensus obtained by Salvini in the last Italian elections and its proximity and familiarity with other far-right European groups, such as the French National Front of Marine Le Pen or the Hungarian Orbàn.

However, European hostility towards migrants has never prevented them from leaving their countries, facing routes to the limit in order to reach European borders, in search of a ransom, for which many of them are ready to die. The migratory routes to Europe are a real hell on earth, studded with pitfalls and dangers – natural and otherwise – that causes victims every year, whose only fault is wanting to live.

Giulio Piscitelli, Italian photojournalist, faces for the first time in a single reportage, the main arteries of human trafficking, in a touching photographic diary that illustrates all the migratory realities that we often struggle to imagine. Harraga is this, a visual diary able to excite and move through the use of the image in all its strength, so sharp and human at the same time, in a first-person story capable of involving the reader page after page, while maintaining constant the intimate bond that is naturally created between reader and protagonist, Piscitelli, in fact, has not limited himself to a simple collection of testimonies summarized and represented by some effect shots for the Western communities, but has decided to try on his skin what it means to be a Harraga boy (word that in Arabic indicates migrants, those who burn the borders).

And so, the narration follows the landings from Tunisia, the Spanish enclaves of Melilla, the desolation of the desert, telling, indeed photographing, the harsh reality of the African routes that involve entire areas of the continent. Piscitelli’s experience then continues by exploring, with the same love and interest for humanity, the migratory routes that cross the Balkans, from Greece to Idomeni, where thousands of people live in limbo at the border, trying to penetrate it day after day.

In this context, Piscitelli’s ability lies in telling with extreme delicacy the personal dramas and the events that his traveling companions face, with the same intimacy and empathy that is recognizable in the shots, able to amplify the strength of the diary form chosen by the author.

The result of a work begun in 2010, Harraga is one of the most accurate and exciting testimonies of our time, narrating not only the journey but also the grueling expectations in the apartments of human traffickers, and finally the arrival of refugees in Europe, documenting dramatic situations such as the exploitation of laborers in Rosarno, Italy, giving us a shocking overview of what is the most important migratory phenomenon of our era.

Our boat, ten meters of wood aged by years of sea, continues unabated for the first eight hours under the weight of 120 bodies.”

Giulio Piscitelli

Translated into English by Marco Grattarola.

¹ Cruscotto statistico, last modified 01/02/2019, date of consultation 01/02/2019.
² Migranti, per la metà degli italiano sono un problema, non un’opportunità,, last modified 23/04/2018, date of consultation 27/01/2019.

GIULIO PISCITELLI, HARRAGA. In viaggio bruciando le Frontiere, Contrasto, 2017:
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