The
The Story
With the men away in the cities, the women carry their goods to the market of Chimbote. Region of Chimborazo. Ecuador. 1998. Photograph by Sebastião SALGADO / AMAZONAS images/ CONTACT Press Images.

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There were about 20 million international migrants in the mid-1980s; 50 million by the end of that decade; and more than 120 million today. News travels fast in our global village. The radio and television around the world portray the Western way of life; beautiful, rich and easy to achieve. In the most backward regions of the world, the poorest of the poor are convinced that somewhere over there, everybody leads that "ideal" life.

My exploration of international migration took me to photograph in several regions of the world, including the ex-USSR, where I followed the departure of Jewish peoples for the U.S.; the U.S.-Mexican border, where I photographed Latin Americans crossing over; Italy, where people from the Balkans and Asia attempt to enter Europe via the Adriatic Sea; Spain, a destination for Africans via the Straits of Gibraltar.

The flow of refugees has also grown under the pressure of natural disasters and wars, which have been unprecedented in number since World War II. According to official estimates, there are currently 26 million refugees around the world, compared to 2.5 million 20 years ago. This figure includes neither unrecorded refugees -- estimated to number six million -- nor persons displaced inside their own countries, estimated at 32 million people.

Among the refugees I have photographed are: Bosnians, Vietnamese "boat people", Afghans, Kurds, Palestinians and others.

For several decades now, Black Africa has fallen victim to a series of natural disasters and wars which have resulted in complete destabilization of economic and social life in most countries on the African continent. Furthermore, Black Africa has the highest birthrate in the world, the largest rate of demographic growth on the planet. In 1970, the population was 362 million people; in 1990 it was 642 million; and it is estimated that it will be 1.15 billion by the year 2010, indicating that demographic growth doubles every 20 years. By 2025, then, it is expected that Nigeria alone will have a population as large as the entire European community.

As a result of this combination of natural disasters, wars and demographic growth, Africa today is the unfortunate record holder in terms of numbers of refugees and displaced people. It is also unique in terms of violence.

Because of the scale of disaster that this enclave of humankind is experiencing, we decided to devote a specific chapter to them, with reportages including: voluntary repatriation to Mozambique of millions of refugees, after 15 years of war; Southern Sudan, with its displaced peoples worn down by war, drought and famine; the huge flow of Rwandan refugees to Tanzania and Burundi, and the conflicts within Rwanda; the appalling refugee camps in Goma, Zaire.



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