Marie Brémond : In the series Idomeni, the picture with the sign “open the borders we are not terrorists”, why did you choose to capture this sign?
Léonard Simon : First I have to say that I spent seven days at the camp in Idomeni in March 2016. Most of the time, I had my tent next to other refugee tents. So, I had plenty of time to connect with people camping there. The camp was a loose formation of tents directly at the Greek-Macedonian border; there were no fences or walls surrounding the “camp”. Because people literally did not know where to go next, some started to protest from time to time. During my time, there were no violent clashes between refugees and the police or the military. There were also many other journalists present, some of them for many weeks.
The protest you can see in the picture consisted of a smaller group of people, holding some signs with different messages. Shortly before that event, the terror attacks at the airport in Brussels had taken place. Even in the camp, refugees could feel the hostile environment towards refugees generally and wanted to communicate with the European public.
Marie Brémond : The picture with the Big Mac and the phones chargers: can you tell me a bit more about this symbolic contrast you chose to highlight?
Léonard Simon : During the exhibition, people were a bit confused and mentioned that was quite weird, because the refugees do have expensive smartphones. However, the picture says much more if one thinks about it.
Firstly, yes these people do have smartphones, mostly not the newest, as so many other people in the world also have. Secondly, we also see many smartphones but only one, dirty plug-board. If one considers, that more than 7000 people (which is probably a very conservative estimate), lived at the campsite that time, then this is very few sockets.
On the other hand, I chose this picture, as the Hamburgers in the background are kind of representative of the unreachable of desire of the people living in the camp, and are in sharp contrast to the living conditions of the many who lived in the camp. For example, for many the only way to make tea was to carefully heat up water in a plastic bottle over the open fire; they mostly burned plastic as timber was very scarce.
Marie Brémond : The picture for the European Forum: the barbed wire. What does it illustrate?
Léonard Simon : The barbed fence is the border with Macedonia and there are children playing in a tree directly alongside the fence. Even the tree looks hostile and at the same time appears try to tower above the fence. The children, in all their innocence of the situation, will never have the possibility to get over the fence: a very sad moment without any joy or hope.
Marie Brémond : What kind of impression did you get from your time spent with migrants in Idomeni ?
Léonard Simon : Very positive, people living in the camp were happy that people were interested in their destiny.
What was very interesting for me to see was that everyone tried to gain as much profit as possible from the refugees; most of the time in an economic sense. As soon as refugees have crossed one border, in order to travel to the next border they must pay a taxi driver, or bus driver, or for the train. As long as everyone did not stay but paid for their transit, people were happy; not to forget the small restaurants along the route. Many even had Arabic signs offering food and beverages for sale.
Another aspect of the journey was also to see the living situation of the people, particularly to see that there has never been a silent moment or a moment where one had access to a warm and dry place to stay. Everything was on the move and there was no protection from rain and from other bad weather conditions.
More on the Idomeni Series: http://lsphotography.eu/photo_press/idomeni/#7