Italian photographer Alessandro Penso clicked his shutter just as Mostafa El Mouzdahir, a 20-year old from Morocco, was purposefully hit by a car. El Mouzdahir sustained multiple injuries. When Penso went to see him at the hospital, he was holding a form police had given him, stating he had to leave Greece within 15 days. He was there illegally.
Penso has spent several years documenting Europe’s worsening immigration crisis. He’s produced work on detention centres in Malta, migrant workers in southern Italy, and in 2012, he began a project documenting young people stuck in immigrant limbo, in Greece. Many of them are barely 18 years old.
“At the time, Greece had the harshest immigration regulations in Europe," Penso told an interviewer earlier this year. "Almost all applications for asylum were being refused and a wall was being constructed on the country’s northern border to stem immigration in that part of the country. The economic crisis that was engulfing Greece was also contributing to a marked rise in xenophobia.”
In order to raise awareness of this crisis, Penso’s photo series, Youth Denied, has been traveling across Europe on a truck, ending up—appropriately—in front of the European Parliament in Brussels last week. “I felt the need to speak with the people who usually see only a small part of the situation," he says in the interview. "What better place to do this than in piazzas and city squares, and what more symbolic a way than on a truck, which is one of the means used by migrants ... to move between EU member states illegally."
In Europe, migrants must claim asylum in the first country they enter or the first country in which they are identified. The purpose of this regulation (called "Dublin II") is to discourage multiple asylum claims, but the rules severely tax the resources of the countries bordering the Mediterranean, like Italy, or Greece. And the regulation often disadvantages migrants seeking to move beyond these Mediterranean countries, many of whom are often en route to relatives already established in another country. If they are found in another country, they get sent back to the country of reception.
One of Penso’s goals with this exhibit, he says, was to have “the chance to raise awareness about this issue within the broader community of people who share their cities and towns with refugees and who are the first to confront the issue of immigration.” He aims to give a voice and a face to these millions of young people, who are often stranded and left in the lurch by a flawed system. This is not a local problem, it’s a European one.
Since Brussels, Penso's truck has made its way to Cortona, Italy, where it is part of the Cortona on the Move photography festival.