Anders Birger | Portfolio
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The Thaweed Brigade

A dark, starless night wraps its arms around us. We are floating in its deep, black nothingness and only the white reflective lines on the asphalt road caught in the one surviving headlight reveals our movement. We are rapidly being absorbed into the Syrian night, removing our self with increasing speed from the relative normality that comes with the Turkish border.

It’s been a while since we last passed the burning oil drums marking the start and end of cities, all revealing bearded faces of city elders that peer out of the darkness, the red warmth of the fire reflecting in their eyes. They stop us: Who are we? Or more importantly, who are we not? The two people in the front seats are well known faces on these roads so we continue onwards.

Momen and Yahoo are members of the Tawheed Brigade and fights for the revolution. Yahoo is 21 years old and experienced. He used to be a fighter, but due to his technologic abilities, he is now in charge of media and communication. Yahoo is driving the car. Moomen is 16 and carrying the Kalasnikhow. They are best friends.

A few hours earlier, walking down the main street of the Turkish border town Reyhanli, I stopped at a street stall selling army fatigues and belts for ammunition. I had recognized a black nylon vest with pockets on the front and back large enough to hold AK47 magazines and grenades.
This type of vest is the highest fashion among the rebels along with the black headscarves that carry the Shahaada (Muslim declaration of faith) in white writing.

A couple of men come up and look at the headscarves. With their long white robes and full-grown beards they are as foreign as me. They smile and I smile back. They are here to join the rebels and crossing over the border today. They ask me to come with them, but to their disappointment I politely decline and explain that I already have made arrangements. We wish each other safe travels and as I turn the corner I find my Syrian contact waiting for me.

As we approach the border barrier on foot I see a sea of faces through the metal bars marking the end of Turkey. A policeman stands blocking a small opening in the gate, not letting anybody in. We sneak behind a truck and walk up to the guard with our heads down. My friend grabs my arm and starts to press through the opening. The officer barely notices us. He’s too busy keeping the many Syrians out of Turkey to notice anybody trying to get in. Why would he?
This is the first time I’ve been smuggled over a border and I can feel the adrenalin pumping. The contrast of this other territory hits me immediately when we enter…

Redshirt Rising

I travelled to Thailand’s capital Bangkok back in 2010 to document the first ‘red-shirt’ protests against the Thai government. Today the tables have turned and the ‘red-shirts’ are now in power with former Prime Minister and multi billionaire (now exiled due to corruption charges) Thaksin Shinawatra’s sister Yingluck as their leader.

I met the Red Shirts in North Thailand and document their journey to the heart of Bangkok and their failed attempt to overthrow the government.

The Invisible Ones

“We could hear the sirens night and day & day and night. After the third day, everything suddenly went quiet. Eleven of my friends jumped off the boat, they couldn’t handle the waiting, and they decided to swim for the shore. One by one we saw them disappear in the waves. They got eaten by the sea”. This tells Babacar Diops.

The up to 800 kilometers (500 miles) across the ocean takes place in small fishing boats packed with up to 90 migrants in each. The Spanish NGO “Organization for Human Rights in Andalusia” estimates that up to a thousand people died last year in their attempt to cross the sea.

Babacar Diops’s pale palms turn towards the sky. His eyes stands out like cracked china. Through the last year and a half, Babacar has seen fifteen of his friends die of hunger, deceases or drowning. First time was after four days in a small fishing boat riding a rough sea towards the Canary Islands. When the Spanish coastguard stopped the boat, Babacar couldn’t speak anymore.
“I was in the hospital for three days before I regained conscience. I was almost dead”. Four of the other 64 passengers never woke again.

For one week he was lying in a hospital bed, looking out of the window. Looking at Europe living it’s life, smelling the foreign country and listening to the sounds of another world. Then he was sent back home.
The police took him to the plane, the plane took him to Mauritania and Mauritania took him to jail. In his backpack he had €500, donated by the Spanish Red Cross. After 10 days in custody, he was given back to the streets. Both the backpack and the money had disappeared in the police storage.

One year after his first attempt, Babacar found himself mashed together with 73 other hopeful migrants in the bottom of a small wooden boat again trying for Europe. This time didn’t go as well as the first. They quickly lost their bearings and were left drifting the open sea for eight days in the hands of the North Atlantic currents before they by chance finally saw the coastline of Spain. But the coastguard were again blocking their way to the beaches of Las Palmas.
“The police threw us bundles of food and water, but they didn’t want to touch us. They only wanted to make sure we didn’t get any further”.

It took three days before desperation took over. Eleven of Babacar’s friends jumped overboard. They all drowned. After that the survivors where brought ashore. Two days later, they were back on a boat. This time they were going in the opposite direction. In Mauritania the police were waiting. The sentence was doubled, 20 days in the local internment camp nicknamed “Guantanamo”.

Today, only six months after he last looked death in the eyes, he’s again scouting the sea. Looking for the next boat that might take him to Europe.

The Sichuan Quake

As we are coming up to the five year mark of one of the worst natural catastrophes in our time, I thought I would revisit my work from the 2008 earthquake that hit the Sichuan province in China.

I was visiting China with journalist Lisa Ioannou as we were working on a story about industrial pollution and it’s impact on newly born babies.

We were in the middle of checking in to a hotel many hundred kilometres away from the epicentre when the high rise began to sway. It only lasted for a few minutes and afterwards we were laughing with the locals in the street, relieved that it was over and there were no harm done.

Little did we know of the horror and incredible tragedies that were playing out simultaneously in the neighbouring region.

An estimated 68.000 lives were lost.