The number of displaced people worldwide has hit a record high of 70.8 million making it one of the most important issues of the 21st century.  In 2015 and 2016, more than a million people arrived in Europe after crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece and continuing their journey along the so-called Western Balkans route. In response, European Union Member States and other European countries hastily erected fences on their borders leaving thousands of people stuck in limbo, many in inadequate or unsafe accommodation.  Serbia, whose borders remain open, and despite lacking in resources and infrastructure, has upheld core European values to a situation not of its making and one of which it has no control, providing safe passage and a chance for many people on the move to rest and recover.  In 2017 the route diverted through Bosnia with migrants braving mountainous terrain and areas not yet cleared of land mines to attempt to enter Croatia, an EU member country, undetected. Few migrants choose to stay in the region where annual incomes remain low, unemployment is high, and where the language is difficult to learn and there are few prospects for integration.


“Tale of migratory birds with broken wings” is an ongoing investigative storytelling project by Ethnovision using photojournalism and anthropological approaches to document refugee issues in the Former Yugoslavia. By collecting intimate personal stories it draws attention to the motivations which cause people to leave everything behind and flee their homes, their experiences whilst on the move as well as their lives in limbo trapped behind EU’s closed borders.  The project involves a co-creative collaborative approach where refugees are given the opportunity to express themselves by telling their stories in audio narrative or by painting and writing over photographs with the goal being to fight against assumptions and increasing public prejudices of the West.  It aims to demonstrate the broad diversity of refugee experiences and by focusing on agency and resilience challenges the majority of images depicting refugees as victims. The personal stories being witnessed uncover traumatic experiences due to war and persecution leaving permanent physical wounds while trauma and stress also leaves a genetic and physical imprint. By bearing witness and providing a permanent record the work can be used as forensically valid evidence where doctors and experts examine the wounds and traumas comparing them with personal narratives to confirm validity and conformity with refugee asylum seeking criteria.  This project is more relevant than ever with the media and sensationalism having long left the camps, border crossings and the fields in between.  But the infinite waiting and uncertainty of refugees lives of infinite unknowing remains.

N’Deane Helajzen, Anthropologist

Photos by Marko Risovic