Alixandra Fazzina's book "A Million Shillings Escape from Somalia" documents the journey of mostly Somali refugees from Somalia to Yemen by sea. It took Fazzina, a photojournalist with Noor Images, two years to document the story which took her through Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen.
It's an extraordinarily powerful piece of journalism. Just 1 in 20 escapees survive a journey in which they are often dumped 2 km from the Yemeni shore by the human traffickers who take a million Somali shillings, or £50 for each passenger.
Even if they do make it to Yemen or on to Saudi Arabia, the lives of the survivors are fraught with danger, difficulty and cursed from the outset with poverty.
A Million Shillings is a narrative journey documenting each segment of the journey through the eyes of different individuals. I came away from this book with the utmost respect for the refugees and a far greater understanding of how human trafficking works. At times it feels like you're reading an account of the modern day equivalent of the 18th century slave trade.
I ordered A Million Shillings on the strength of an interview with Fazzina I read in a copy of The Sunday Times I picked up in London a couple of months ago. By chance, Alixandra was passing through Kigali a few weeks later and we hooked up for lunch en route to the airport.
It's not every day you meet a journalist who has documented such a story and in such a unique and compassionate way. As she says,
"I work quietly. My photographs are quiet. I find it awkward when someone makes me the subject." link
Not only is the book a fascinating account. It is an object lesson in how to do long form photojournalism. Something I hope to learn from as I continue to make tentative steps of my own into that arena. I hope she gets the chance, as we discussed, to talk about her work at the Frontline Club one of these days.
In the meantime, Sean O'Hagan's review of A Million Shillings in The Guardian sums up the power of the book very well,
In 2006, Fazzina started photographing refugees and migrants from civil war-tornSomalia, the uprooted people who risk all to cross the Gulf of Aden in search of a better life. The two-year project has now been turned into an epic, often sadly beautiful book, A Million Shillings: Escape From Somalia. Fazzina's original idea was to follow a single group of refugees from Somalia to Yemen, but that became untenable when she realised few people reach the other side. As it was, she faced extraordinary risks and came upon dreadful suffering, at one point leaving her camera on a beach to help drag survivors from a boat overloaded with dead bodies…
…A Million Shillings, though, is a book that does not abide by the normal rules of reportage. Its narrative unfolds in an almost novelistic way, as Fazzina's camera tracks a journey that, for the few who survive, often ends in a kind of dismal limbo of uncertainty in a refugee camp in Yemen. Many of Fazzina's images of the everyday life there have an intimate and painterly quality: the muted blues and greens of the clothes, the stoicism of the faces, the abiding sense of futility that attends this kind of survival. Here, the photographs serve the story and you may find yourself lingering, as I did, over her almost holy portraits of the displaced.
Salima… was 19 when Fazzina met her in Yemen. She had lost her husband and baby son in the war in Mogadishu and was living in a so-called safe house, trying to raise $25 through begging to pay the traffickers who will drive her across the desert to more uncertainty. At night, she passes out on a bare floor and dreams of home.
This is a powerful and moving book that will make you think twice about the meaning of overused, meaningless terms like "refugee" and "asylum seeker". link