Harragas is an Arabic word meaning “those who burn.” Illegal immigrants from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya who attempt to reach Europe by boat are known as harragas because they burn their documents before leaving Africa, or when they’re about to be arrested. The only way out of their home countries is to destroy their papers and lose their identities.
The objects photographed here were collected by Askavusa, a group that supports African migrants arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa. Located between Tunisia and Italy, the island is a focal point for illegal immigration into the EU and has been the scene of numerous disasters involving ill-prepared and overcrowded boats that ferry immigrants to Europe. The most notorious shipwreck there occurred in October 2013 and claimed 366 lives.
All of these items were abandoned on such boats in the past decade. While observing and documenting the personal effects of those who tried to reach “the other side,” I came to admire the migrants’ desire to leave their troubled pasts behind and build new lives.