In the summer of 2015, the world was focused on Idomeni - a small village on the Greek-Macedonian border, where thousands of new refugees were finding themselves trapped every day. But the story of Idomeni as a crossing point started years before. Vasilis Tsartstanis, a resident of a neighboring village, was the first to begin taking photographs, videos and written testimonies of the perilous journeys of those he saw traveling north. Years later, his work offers unique insight into the history of this migratory route and the struggles of those who have taken it.
This summer, he combined his materials with the work of other photographers, filmmakers and journalists working at critical crossing points to create an exhibition. Beginning in Greece’s famed Bensousan Han, the exposition will be traveling around Europe for the next six months.
I’m proud to have my work on display alongside his and honored to represent the critical Spanish-Moroccan borders found in Ceuta and Melilla. I believe these borders - the only European borders found on the African continent - are the frontlines of a little seen battle against Africa’s rapidly expanding population of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. This exposition will help bring their stories to light.
More images from the next stops on our expo trail (Italy, Spain, France, Germany, UK) coming soon...!
What happens when 20 American college students and
10 college-aged migrants and refugees living across 4 continents
spend 1 semester working together
to create solutions to our global migration crisis?
THEY EXCEED ALL EXPECTATIONS.
"For many college students, the growing global migrant and refugee crisis may seem a tragic but distant reality.
But for 20 Emory students, the challenges faced by our world’s displaced took on real-life dimensions this semester through an anthropology seminar that had them working together with migrants and refugees from across four continents.
"Anthropology 385: The Migrant and Refugee Crisis" created a first-person understanding by requiring students to work with community partners, understand their lives and needs, and propose sustainable solutions to address their biggest barriers to success.
The course was designed and taught by Dr. Isabella Alexander, a cultural anthropologist and Assistant Visiting Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Emory University. Her research focuses on the socio-political realities of transitional migration in some of our world’s most critical border regions, and her connections to displaced populations in Atlanta and around the world made community partnerships with her students possible..."
Anna, Kavelle & Maryajose (Colombia - US)
A platform for DACA recipients to share their stories, raising public awareness about our country’s current immigration policies and the contributions undocumented migrants make to our communities.
Alison, Neehal & Eva (Syria - Lebanon)
An online database providing refugees (in their native languages) with health literacy and info on low- and no-cost clinics, medication and healthcare resources in their communities.
LAWYERS WITHOUT BORDERS
Gordon, Kevin, Shoba & Rafael (Mexico - US)
A legal aid program connecting undocumented migrants in the U.S. with law students seeking to learn more about immigration law and local firms seeking to donate pro-bono hours. (Specializations: Labor abuse, citizenship, business incorporation)
MORE THAN A MIGRANT
Adama, Mialovena, Mamadou (Guinea - France) & Bah (Sierre Leone - Morocco)
A platform for African migrants to share their stories and report abuses, raising public awareness about our world’s largest migrant population and providing human rights advocates with critical info on the types, locations and frequencies of abuse on a global scale.
GENERATIONS OF DIVIDE
Abbe, Sarah & Saeed (Syria - Brazil)
An educational program to fight racism against refugees in the largest refugee-receiving country through videos on Syria and Lebanon’s unique history, and interactive classroom experiences led by local college students in high schools around the country.
Lilla, Trishanne & Maryajose (Colombia - US)
An app providing undocumented high school students in the U.S. with info on colleges and universities open to them, and connecting them to low- and no-cost application resources in their communities.
Alina, Peter & Mona (Syria - Lebanon)
An online marketplace for migrant and refugee artists to sell their work across borders, and connect with other artists in their new communities on collaborative art projects.
THE MIGRANT ACTION MOVEMENT
Jazmin, Natalia & Rafael (Mexico - US)
An anonymous platform for migrants to report abuses, providing organizations and individuals fighting for migrants’ rights with critical info on the types, locations and frequencies of abuse in the U.S.
THE RESETTLEMENT PATHWAY
Yasmeen & Asalah (Syria - Italy)
A step-by-step program providing refugees with the financial literacy education and resources needed to manage their transition to independence over their first twelve months in a new country.
FRIENDSHIP BEYOND BORDERS
Konya, Mikaila, Sophia, Alyssa & Khatera (Afghanistan - US)
A peer mentorship program connecting refugee and non-refugee girls to support one another and raise cultural understanding throughout their high school journeys.
First and most importantly, to all of you adding your voices to the #MeToo movement, I hear you, I believe you, and I thank you for bravely sharing your story with the world. Your story is meaningful, not because it's one of thousands of that have been released today, but because it's yours. Our words are powerful not in their numbers, but in their singularity. One person who you know was sexually harassed or assaulted. And whether it was your daughter, your mother, your neighbor, your colleague, or a complete stranger, that is one person too many.
Secondly, I want to shine a light on the fact that calling forth records of harassment and assault - numbering them in our social media newsfeeds one by one - assumes a truth that is deeply troubling to me. It assumes that not EVERY woman you know has at some point in her life been sexually harassed. It assumes that not EVERY woman you know is harassed with such regularity that it defines how we move through our work lives, our social lives, and our public lives. It assumes that sexual harassment and assault against women are not ubiquitous around the world.
#MeToo. But I think that should be assumed.
Step one: Let's recognize the scope of this problem.
Step two: Let's ask ourselves, what are we going to do about it?
I'm honored to be speaking at the Center for Civil and Human Rights for #worldrefugeeday... If you're in Atlanta, please come out and show your support!
"Most foundational to our international human rights law is the belief that all citizens of the world should be guaranteed the right to seek refuge in other countries when driven out of their own by war or poverty."
@newsincerity | The Other Side of the Border
"American professor and filmmaker Isabella Alexander was wrapping up her latest film shoot when the Algerian government stopped her – she was detained for almost two weeks.
When she was finally released and returned to the US, she immediately began planning her next trip back. Why? She needed to finish work on her film before the fall semester started at Emory University, and she wasn't about to to let anything stop her. These are stories that need to be told.
Her documentary “The Burning" (@smallworldfilms) follows three individuals who’ve fled poverty and wars raging across Africa. They find themselves trapped in Morocco – a Northern point of the African continent – before attempting to cross into Europe and find safety in a new life. The film shows us the immense suffering they must endure to reach their destination and the dreams they share.
Whether abroad or at home in Atlanta, Isabella is helping migrant and refugees tell their stories. She even created a course at Emory called "The New Americans Project" (@newamericansproject). It's centered around a student-led social media project that shares the stories of immigrant and refugee students on campus every week and gives youth a platform to share their voice on critical social issues.
“What's unique about NAP is that it targets youth audiences to become active in the global issues of our time, showing us that these issues are a lot closer to home than we might first imagine. You don't have to travel halfway around the world to meet someone whose life has been impacted by migration - we can start by asking our neighbors if they have a story to tell.”
Finding ways to forge personal connections with neighbors from different cultures is the essence of #NewSincerity so, stay tuned – we’ll be reconnecting with Isabella, The Burning, and The New Americans Project soon!"
"For Emory Assistant Professor Dr. Isabella Alexander, a normal day in Morocco consists of scavenging dump sites for food scraps with her brotherhood and hiding memory cards in the soles of her shoes. At night, she sleeps on the ground, always remaining alert to the sounds of an approaching police raid. An American journalist fluent in the local dialects, Alexander said that even as a foreigner, filming the routine human rights abuses against sub-Saharan migrants and refugees around Morocco's Spanish enclaves leaves her exposed to routine police harassment by both Spanish and Moroccan officials. She has spent many years living in the makeshift forest camps surrounding Ceuta and Melilla and continues to return annually, spending the months that she isn't teaching hidden from state-authorities and signs of city life. Now, she plans to expose the story of Africa's unseen migrant and refugee crisis to the world.
Alexander is currently completing a book titled, "Burning at Europe's Borders," and plans to release it alongside her first feature-length documentary film, "The Burning: An Untold Story from the Other Side of the Migrant Crisis," early next summer. While at Emory, she offers undergraduate and graduate courses focused on international human rights and the current crises of migrant and refugee displacement around the world. According to Alexander, the human rights crisis in Morocco is growing due to two systemic processes - individuals from war-torn and poverty-ridden countries across the sub-Saharan are crossing through Morocco in their attempts to reach Europe, and all Africans detained within Europe are being deported to Morocco, rather than being properly repatriated to their countries of origin. This crisis is reminiscent of the Syrian refugee crisis as families often break apart in the hopes that one among them will be able to reach a better life. Those traveling north turn to smuggling rings to aid in their movement towards Europe's southern borders. Yet, the small number who successfully make it to the E.U. learn that even after applying for refugee status, the rejection rate for sub-Saharan Africans is over 80 percent.
As a young white American researcher, Alexander said her positionality as an outsider to the crisis has helped her establish trust with a diverse group of actors, including Moroccan governmental agents, Nigerian smuggling rings, Spanish border guards, and the brotherhoods camped out in northern Morocco. “[My position] there makes me more vulnerable in a lot of ways. And I think my very vulnerability is the reason why I have been able to gain access [to these spaces] because I'm not read as a threatening force.”
It was painful to hear her describe the mentality of many young migrants and refugees, after living through years of brutal police harassment. “I don’t think death is the ultimate fear [for migrants and refugees],” Alexander said. “They talk about death so casually, their lives like a game of chance. I think the ultimate fear is never escaping the cycle they're trapped in." After having spent so many years in the camps with the brotherhoods, and having seen many of the young men killed at the hands of border guards, Alexander's commitment to the cause has become clear even to those there. “I listen to how [migrants and refugees] talk about journalists,” Alexander said. “They often tell me how journalists come to steal their stories, but how they believe I am there to help them tell their stories.” She prioritizes giving the migrants and refugees an active role in all of her research projects, including her most recent documentary film.
Back in the classroom, Alexander’s students attempt to unpack her anecdotes from the field. One of her students, Caroline Cohen (20C), asks herself how this is happening and how she didn’t know anything about it before taking Alexander's class last spring. Cohen spoke about how the overload of news content can be desensitizing, but how the personal stories are hard to forget. Alexander has a similar philosophy and hopes that the human element of the migrant and refugee crisis that she exposes to her students in class will also resonate with audiences who see her film and read her book. “I think the power of good storytelling is that you can pull individuals out from the masses and people can connect with those individual stories in a more intimate way. Once you have one individual who comes to mind - one face, one story - when you hear about a particular crisis in the news, it becomes that much harder for you to turn away.” Though Cohen says information coming from the news can sometimes be overwhelming, the connection that Alexander’s anecdotes make between the migrant crisis and the individuals effected by it is difficult to ignore. “The situation [in Morocco] is terrible,” Cohen said. “And I feel like I really understand just how terrible it is for the first time."
In preparation for the documentary’s official release, Alexander has been screening rough cuts of the film for university audiences across the country. “I always have a handful of European and Moroccan students in the audience at my screenings," she said, "and the fact that they are equally shocked to learn that this is unfolding in their backyard is, to me, evident of just how important it is that this story be broken."
After taking Alexander’s class, Johnna Gadomski (20C) decided that she would intern at a refugee aid center in Atlanta this summer. “I had never thought of the right to migrate as such an essential part of our basic human rights,” Gadomski said. “[Alexander] definitely changed my perception of human rights, and how subjective the application of them can be. Who gets human rights? And who decides? Her class has made me question why certain people are not afforded the rights they deserve.” Gadomski also spoke to how much she appreciates Alexander’s effort to integrate materials from her own research into her classes. “She’s done a really good job of never reducing [the migrants and refugees] down to stories of vulnerability but maintaining their humanity as complete individuals,” Gadomski said.
Alexander said ultimately, she hopes that like her class, her larger work will impact the public’s understanding of the migrant and refugee crisis and lead to concrete changes at the Spanish-Morocco border. “We draw a stark line between these two categories - the migrant and the refugee - and I hope my work encourages audiences to think about how they are often one in the same, and how the label that is assigned to an individual is often based on racial or gendered prejudices about them and their ability to assert vulnerability in crises." We, too, hope that her work will reach and inspire broad audiences as it has done here on Emory campus..."
I'm deeply honored for my work on the other side of the migrant crisis to be profiled by State Senator Will Brownsberger today...
"Every once in a while you run into a story that you can’t quite believe and you just want to hear more.
I recently found myself seated for dinner next to Isabella Alexander - an anthropologist who has spent many months living in the makeshift camps home to sub-Saharan African boys and men trying desperately to reach Europe.
Her courage, putting herself out there alone in a dangerous environment, borders on recklessness. But the story she brought back deserves hearing, and surely, there was no other way for her to get it. It starkly illustrates the increasingly painful dilemmas that we will all face around immigration policy in the decades to come..."
When a group of students came to me earlier this year asking me if I would help them start a new organization on campus to serve the needs of Atlanta's growing refugee population, I had no idea how far we would come in such a short time...
Today, I'm especially proud of one student, Farah, for pouring so much of herself into this mission over the past months. Working with our small team, she's been foundational in creating 'Refugee Revive' from the ground up. Now an established link between Emory University and the diverse refugee community of Clarkston, GA, the organization was recently selected as a finalist for the prestigious Hult Prize! The students will be flown to San Francisco where they'll have the chance to compete with other finalists for a one million dollar grant. In the following weeks, they'll be workshopping their business plan with industry experts and preparing to pitch to the Hult Foundation's panel of world leaders and shakers why 'Refugee Revive' should be selected as the winner - as the world's brightest young business minds who have come together to solve one of the planet's biggest challenges with an innovative idea for sustainable and community-centered enterprise.
This is only the beginning...!
"We asked each student who was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa Honor's Society this semester to name the one faculty member who has most supported them in their academic excellence, and who exemplifies the highest degree of intellectual rigor and passion in their own academic pursuits." - Phi Beta Kappa
I was so honored when I recently learned that I'll not only receive the great honor of induction into the Phi Beta Kappa Honor's Society again this semester, but that I'm the first to be selected in two consecutive semesters of the academic year. I want to thank Jit Hui for this highest of honors and for being a constant source of inspiration for me!
I am continually inspired by the work that my students do, and yet Jit and Karly are a rare combination of brilliance, compassion, critical global awareness, and deep commitment to social justice work. I can only imagine how many communities will be impacted by their brains and their passion in the coming years. It is students like them who make me feel better about the future of our world.