12 Compelling Pictures That Show What Immigrants Are Really Like
"The things that are common between us are stronger than those that divide us."
These powerful portraits by photographer Robin Hammond capture the compelling stories and faces of those who have immigrated to Europe in search of a better life.
The pictures are featured in the October issue of National Geographic, accompanying the story "The New Europeans," which chronicles the complex history of immigration in Europe, as well as the commonalities that each refugee shares with one another.
Hammond spoke to BuzzFeed about what this project means to him:
What story about immigrant life did you hope to tell through these photographs?
Robert Hammond: Europe has been rocked by the immigrant crisis. It’s been a major issue for the entire continent. While the number of Syrians is significant, it’s one of many waves of immigrants to the continent. As important as this most recent wave is, Europe has always been a place that people have sought to improve their lives.
I think it’s human instinct to seek out how we are different, but I hope people will see that we are all fundamentally the same in our grand design, in our hopes and dreams. The aim of this work is to embrace the diversity of the immigrant story.
1. Sharanjit Padda, age 26, London.
Where did the project begin for you and in what way was this a personal endeavor?
RH: I’ve lived pretty much all my adult life away from my homeland, mostly in Europe. I’m acutely aware of the discussions we’re having about immigrants on the continent; when I hear politicians talking about immigration, they’re also talking about me. But my experience couldn’t be more different than that of Syrians coming here today. There is no single immigrant experience.
When I first moved to the United Kingdom 15 years ago, I was doing a lot of stories about immigration in the north of the country, and sometimes I would cover rallies of the British National Party (an anti-immigration party.) People at those rallies would complain to me about the immigrants in their communities, not understanding, of course, that I was an immigrant as well.
While I was very aware of being an immigrant, I think sometimes to the natives of European countries, I’m perceived differently to the immigrants we generally talk about in the media. I’m white and speak English — I look and sound more or less like the native population. I began to understand that there’s often a strong cultural and racial aspect to the anti-immigrant point of view.
What was one thing you took away from this body of work that was entirely unexpected?
RH: We did this work with five different immigrant populations, and I expected a large amount of diversity between those groups, like the Turks, Algerians, and the Syrians. What I didn’t quite expect was the massive diversity within those groups, and it just reaffirmed to me that we’re all just individuals and sometimes what brings us together or separates us is not necessarily about geography or culture. There are many things that influence who we are or our identity. Using the name of a country as their only defining feature is simplistic. There are things that provide a stronger identity for many people than the place they were born.
What do you hope people will take away from these images?
RH: That fundamentally we are all just people trying to get on. That people are people are people. I think that people are afraid most of what they don’t know, and I hope that by hearing these stories, people will realize that the things that are common between us are stronger than those that divide us. I think it’s human instinct to seek out how we are different, but I hope people will see that we are all fundamentally the same in our grand design, in our hopes and dreams.