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Dublin: 17 °C Wednesday 18 September, 2019
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This photographer's incredible photo of a refugee family has gone viral

He spoke to us about the image.

‘I’ve never had a reaction like this to any one photograph I took.’ – Daniel Etter

YOU’VE PROBABLY SEEN it shared on social media numerous times over the past few days – this photograph of a father crying as he clutches his child, moments after they landed ashore on the Greek island of Kos.

They are Syrian refugees, arrived on Kos after departing from Turkey. On the shore to greet them after their long journey was nobody they knew, but instead photographers like Daniel Etter, who were documenting the influx of migrants to the tiny island.

Etter – whose work has also appeared in Time and Der Spiegel – captured father Laith Majid, who is from Deir Ezzor in Syria, clutching his two children and being embraced by his wife as they arrived ashore in Kos.

Behind them were some of the 13 or so other migrants – men, women, children – who also took the perilous journey from Bodrum in Turkey to Kos aboard a rubber boat that was leaking air.

Etter would go to that beach – the closest beach in Kos to Turkey – every morning, where he would watch as between five and 10 boats, crammed full of refugees, landed ashore. The more powerful boats would reach a nearby lighthouse first.

Majid’s expression is that of a man who has left his homeland and escaped the fate of other migrants whose lives ended in the Mediterranean sea. He faces a future of uncertainty, but at least it is not a future of war.

Etter’s photograph of Majid and family was included in this New York Times article about migrants travelling to Greece, and struck a chord with people immediately.

The photographer told TheJournal.ie that he knew his snap was special, but didn’t anticipate just how much it would touch people.

“It happened quite quickly,” Etter told TheJournal.ie from Paris.

Normally when the New York Times puts something out, because of the audience it has it gets shared automatically. For the last three days, since it has been published it hasn’t stopped. I can’t even keep up with replying to people and I’ve never had a reaction like this to any one photograph I took.

Asked what he thinks makes the image so special, Etter said:

“I think I was really moved by the situation when I witnessed it. And normally when you see it up close, you’re the photographer and you try to translate [the scene] into that photograph, but it never really works. But I was surprised that it touched so many people.

“A lot of people who react to it are parents themselves, and they know how to care for their children and how hard it is even in normal circumstances. And then you see that father who two weeks ago left Syria; you see him in the moment where he did a big step on the way to finding safety for his children and find a future for his children. In that moment, everything comes together.”

Raw human emotion

In Etter’s photo, you see “the war in Syria, everything they lost in Syria, the danger they faced there”.

There is sadness over their extreme loss, but also love:

The love for the family and the relief that they made it happen.
It’s just really human, raw emotions… a lot coming together.

Majid couldn’t speak any English, but his wife – an English teacher – told Etter their story. “I helped them as much as I could and after they arrived I guided them to where they had to go,” he said. They are currently living on a ferry alongside other Syrians who have arrived in Kos.

Etter hopes to keep in touch with the family. “It’s a difficult situation,” he said. “They are not in danger of their life anymore, and the thing is it’s just one family of millions of people.”

When shared online, people began connecting with the plight of this one family, using it as a way of demonstrating the scale of the refugee crisis.

Greece Migrants Migrants and refugees arrive after crossing from Turkey to Kos Source: Alexander Zemlianichenko

One person wrote on the New York Times Facebook page:

This photo transcends all culture and religion. These are fellow human beings in great need, and I pray that they find compassion, comfort, and a new home. Peace to all.

Another said:

He cries for joy because he’s arrived in Kos, Greece. So much migrants these days on this island. But not enough food, not enough roof. Greece cries for help to welcome all the refugees. This man is not arrived. Neither he’s safe. Biggest migrants crisis since WWII. I’m so sorry for him.

The accompanying article detailed the risky – though “remarkably organised” – passage from Turkey to Kos, how migrants would “charge for the sea” in Bodrum at night, heading in rubber dinghies to Kos.

Their journey will have cost them up to €1,5000, paid to smugglers. Already, 2,000 refugees have died in the Mediterranean sea.

Greece Migrants Migrants rest at their tents while to be registered in Kos Source: Alexander Zemlianichenko

The island is about 25 minutes away, but the journey isn’t without danger. Still, it is one of the “easier” journeys for refugees, which is partly why Kos has been overwhelmed by a tide of migrants in recent weeks.

Last week, 1000 refugees were forced into a stadium in Kos for a day, which drew complaints. Tensions have been mounting on the small island as the number of migrants continues to grow.

Most of the Syrians are living rough on the island. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called for the Greek government to do better than what it is doing, and replace a registration ship with a permanent building.

Getting help

Turkey Migrants Migrants who tried to begin their journey with a dinghy from a beach near the coastal town of Bodrum disembark the boat after their failed attempt. Source: Lefteris Pitarakis

Etter has received many messages from people who want to help the family, but Etter said the problem is bigger than one family. He has encouraged people to contribute to an NGO like Médecins Sans Frontières‎, who are helping on the frontline in Kos.

“I feel it’s more efficient if you donate to people who know what they are doing and have been doing it for a long time,” he pointed out.

As he moves on to his next assignment, it is clear this is one experience that will stay with Etter.

“I was touched, and thought it was a strong photo – but I would never have imagined how many people wrote [to] me and expressed their feelings towards the family.”

Read: More than 40 people suffocated in hold of migrant boat>

Read: Giant passenger ferry sent to Kos – but migrants won’t be allowed live on it>

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