Life in an Italian migrant center

Story highlights

  • Sofie Amalie Klougart recently photographed migrants at a reception center in Italy
  • Thousands of migrants are fleeing Africa for a new life in southern Europe

(CNN)Thousands of migrants have been fleeing Africa, risking their lives at sea for a new start in southern Europe.

However, many of their boats aren't fit for the trip, and the results can be deadly.
    But what exactly happens to the migrants who were able to survive their journey?
    Photographer Sofie Amalie Klougart's "Reaching Europe" series documents the conditions some migrants face after arriving on the Italian coast of Sicily, at a migrant reception center in Pozzallo.
    "There is a lot of news photography of migrants arriving in Europe and about the boat tragedies, but not many pictures of how the life in Europe is and how the system is from within," Klougart said.
    As of June 9, the International Organization for Migration estimates that 102,000 migrants have traveled to Europe by sea this year, and 47,449 migrants have traveled to Italy between January to May -- slight increases when compared to this same time period in 2014.
    Klougart -- who took the photos in April -- worked with journalist Marie Louise Albers, and their documentation was supported by the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders.
    Photographer Sofie Amalie Klougart
    The subjects in "Reaching Europe" are young men from West Africa -- from countries such as Mali, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau -- who left their homes and made their way to the ports of Libya, where they continued on a treacherous journey by boat to Italy.
    Migrants leave their native countries for a number of reasons, including war and conflict, social or religious persecution, and a lack of employment and opportunities.
    What "Reaching Europe" ultimately reveals is that while the migrants Klougart documented were fortunate to have survived their journey at sea, the challenges they face do not wash away once they are on land.
    By the time Klougart and Albers arrived, the migrants they met had already been at the reception center for 13 days. Not only did each migrant have to wear the same clothes they were given on their initial arrival for those 13 days -- more than the typical four-day period at this specific temporary reception center -- they were never allowed to go outdoors for the duration of their stay.
    "There is actually nothing to do in the center," Klougart said. "And that means that even though there would be a (soccer ball) there, they wouldn't play around because they are afraid. And even though (some of the migrants) of course have a lot of energy, they cannot use it."
    Klougart notes that a lot of the migrants do not have energy, and instead find themselves having trouble sleeping. They appear to be in a "state of dizziness" during the day, she said.
    Klougart also saw a "massive" police presence, which she feels is reminiscent of a prison and could make the migrants "feel like they have committed a crime."
    "There were around 20 policemen just watching the migrants. ... I thought it was very uncomfortable," Klougart said. "(The policemen) were not in the same room, but, for instance, the first thing (the migrants) saw when they arrived (were) big police cars."
    Klougart's use of natural light throughout "Reaching Europe" serves to place a spotlight on each of her subjects and transforms them to being viewed not as migrants, but as "strong human beings."

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    "Why shouldn't we treat these people with the same respect that we do with pop stars and politicians? Of course, (migrants) also have the right to be photographed with respect," Klougart said. "The light in these pictures is so beautiful and helps in that way. You see all (their) beautiful faces and then you realize what it is all about, that it's not just news photography."
    Klougart also notes that while her use of natural light was of importance to her photos, the sunlight likely had a much larger significance to the migrants personally. This is perhaps evident in photo No. 7 in the gallery above: Three young migrants are sitting in a room as sunlight emanates through the windows and ceiling.
    "The (migrants) were often sitting on plastic chairs (by a) little stream of sunlight that came through the window," Klougart said. "They had not felt the sun for 13 days, and they missed the feeling of the sun on their skin."
    For Klougart, a memorable moment in "Reaching Europe" is the photo of the migrants as they sit with their eyes fixated on the minuscule laptop placed on a small chair in front of them. This photo -- No. 5 in the gallery above -- can be viewed as an image of an image, with subtle but important details.
    "I think it was the first time they saw a movie at the reception center in Pozzallo, and of course there is a big television just on top of the (laptop) screen, but it never worked," Klougart said. "And the ironic part is that it was such a violent movie that was shown. ... Even though (the migrants) didn't seem to care, I was thinking, 'What's going through their minds?' "
    Klougart hopes that "Reaching Europe" will enable people around the world to think about the lives of migrants and the contributions that can be made to better the lives of those men, women and children who must risk their lives in order to find a safe and stable refuge.
    She and Albers "hope that we, through our work, can maintain the public's interest in the (migrants) and force people and the European Union to take action," Klougart said. "Because we cannot wait for another boat to crash and to see more people die before we do so."