The
Mediterranean
Route

Moises Saman shot the central path of the modern migrant crisis, a sea route to Greece and a land scramble to potential salvation in the north.

Moises Saman shot the central path of the modern migrant crisis, a sea route to Greece and a land scramble to potential salvation in the north.

Desperate migrants used to leave Europe by the thousands, fleeing war, poverty and persecution. Many flocked to America, where editorial cartoonists drew them as animals and politicians tried to keep them out. But if Europe used to populate the world, the world is now populating Europe—and a new era of exclusion is just getting started.

The numbers compare to the largest migrations of the 20th century. More than one million people pressed into Europe in 2015, a four-fold increase over the year before, which itself was a new millennium high.

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Lesbos Island, GreeceA network of volunteer groups have stepped in to clothe, feed and house the tide of migrants, earning international acclaim and even a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.
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Lesbos Island, GreeceDaily arrivals peaked at 6,000 a day, in October 2015, covering the shore in cast-off supplies and swamping the island’s meager accommodations.

Most came through the Greek islands, where there are no signs of a slowdown. By the end of February 2016, 75,000 more people had arrived, a sum 25 times greater than the figure for the same period last year, and a worrying sign ahead more favorable spring weather.

The result, especially on the Greek island of Lesbos, is a kind of Ellis Island for the 21st century. It’s a crash zone for tomorrow’s grandmothers and grandfathers, the future subjects of elementary school family tree projects.

Instead of descending from the decks of steamships, however, they step off rubber dinghies. Instead of ducking dictators and kings, they run from terrorists and warlords.

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Lesbos Island, GreeceIn January 2015, more than 350 migrants drowned in the waters off Greece, Turkey and Italy, bringing the two-year death toll to nearly 8,000.
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Lesbos Island, GreeceMore than 10,000 unaccompanied migrant children are missing, according to European law enforcement. The fear is that these most vulnerable travelers have been picked off by slave and sex traffickers.
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Miratovac, SerbiaAn estimated 80 percent of Europe’s incoming migrants are fleeing Syria’s civil war, the extremism of ISIS or the festering conflict in Afghanistan. But others hail from Pakistan, Somalia and the Congo.

They turn away from ISIS in Iraq, civil war in Syria, and religious violence throughout the Middle East and North Africa. What they face in exchange is a wall of public anxiety, virulent populism and the threat of closed borders for thousands of miles.

That is, if they make it at all.

More than 3,500 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in 2015. Hundreds more perished in the first weeks of this year.

This is a new problem for Europe.

Today’s Europe has changed, and so has its security, fueling a climate of fear that’s focused on Islam.

After the Second World War, Winston Churchill dreamed of “a kind of united states,” a place “whose moral conception will win the respect and gratitude of mankind and whose physical strength will be such than none dare molest her tranquil sway.”

Postwar Europe would be a welcoming place, he argued, “where men and women of every country will think of being European as belonging to their native land, and wherever they go in this wide domain will truly feel ‘here I am at home.’”

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OPATOVAC, CROATIA / MIRATOVAC, SERBIAIn 2015, Europe announced a plan to spread migrants around the continent under a quota system. Nearly a year later, however, the plan remains hotly contested and little used.
Instead of ducking dictators and kings, they run from terrorists and warlords.
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Lesbos Island, GreeceMost migrants make landfall on the eastern shore, heading toward camps with hundreds of plastic, IKEA-made housing units. Islanders have largely welcomed the migrants despite criticism from Europe’s hardliners.

The eventual result: the Schengen Agreement, a three-decade-old arrangement that allows a person to travel 26 countries without showing his or her passport. This ease of movement, in addition to wealth and promise, is what lures migrants to Europe.

It’s also what makes many “native” Europeans nervous. Churchill’s Europe was overwhelmingly white and Christian. Terrorism was little-known, and the Muslim population was virtually zero.

Today’s Europe has changed, and so has its security, fueling a climate of fear that’s focused on Islam.

The Muslim population on the continent is more than 15 million, including nearly 5 million in France and Germany, 3 million in the United Kingdom, 2 million in Italy and about a million in the Netherlands.

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Izmir, TurkeyMigrants who lack the funds to continue their journey into Europe remain stranded on the Turkish coast until they raise some cash. Smugglers often meet in courtyards like this one in search of new customers.
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Opatovac, CroatiaMigrants moving northward and westward pool in Serbia and Croatia, where the authorities have begun to screen by nationality rather than an evaluation of need. Only Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans can stay.

Those figures, compiled by the Pew Research Center, don’t even include the latest wave of migration dominated by Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Moroccans and people from other countries in North Africa, the majority of them Muslim. Like the Europeans who fled for America in the early and mid-20th century, these immigrants are a mix of asylum-seekers and financial-dreamers. Many (perhaps most) are running from war and conflict. Others are seeking jobs and better lives.

What they have in common is bad timing and political misfortune.

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Tovarnik, CroatiaWith the Europe’s official migrant plan in disarray, Croatia has partnered with Serbia to provide train service toward western Europe, streamlining a route once defined by squats and bottlenecks.
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Preševo, Serbia After the revelation that some of the terrorists who killed 130 people in Paris in November had arrived as refugees, European leaders stepped up screening continent-wide. Here new arrivals await registration.
Preševo, Serbia After the revelation that some of the terrorists who killed 130 people in Paris in November had arrived as refugees, European leaders stepped up screening continent-wide. Here new arrivals await registration.
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Croatia-Serbia borderHungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has rid his country of migrants, erecting steel border walls that keep travelers in Serbia and Croatia, where makeshift camps dot the land.

On March 11, 2004, during the morning rush hour in Madrid, 10 bombs destroyed four commuter trains, killing 200 people and wounding a thousand. It was the deadliest terror attack in Europe since Churchill’s beautiful vision of a borderless continent. It was also the first in a string of attacks by Muslim assailants, many of them immigrants or the children of immigrants.

The next came in London in 2005. Four suicide bombers detonated rucksacks, killing 52 people and injuring hundreds more. It was the single worst terror attack on British soil.

Europe’s "tranquil sway" has become a turbulent clash, pitting the biggest refugee crisis since World War II against perhaps the fiercest populism in a generation or more.

In 2015, Paris suffered the worst one-two terror punch in its history: a massacre at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last January, followed by a mid-November eruption of suicide bombings, spree shootings, and gory executions. More than 140 people died.

As a result, Europe’s “tranquil sway” has become a turbulent clash, pitting the biggest refugee crisis since World War II against perhaps the fiercest populism in a generation or more. Germany alone tells the story. Last year, the country counted more than a million new arrivals, including a large number from the Balkans in addition to the Mediterranean routes through Greece and Italy.

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Budapest, HungaryLinking terror to migration, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has rallied many once-open-minded European leaders around the idea of closing their borders as a matter of national security.

“We can do it!” became the mantra of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Polls showed that a majority of Germans agreed. While other countries put up fences and tightened border checks in defiance of the Schengen ideal, Germany seemed to revel in its fresh reputation for openness and acceptance.

But on New Year’s Eve, police described gangs of predators with “a North African or Arabic” appearance, groping, robbing and even raping the women of Cologne, Germany. When at least 21 of the alleged assailants were identified as asylum-seekers, a switch in Germany seemed to flip.

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MALMÖ, SWEDEN More than 160,000 people have applied for asylum in Sweden, more per capita than any country in Europe. But leaders now say as many as half will be expelled in the years ahead.
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Ekeby, SwedenThis empty lot is all that remains after a mob burned down the making of a new school for migrant children. Far-right politicians are on the rise across Europe, lifted by a ride of anger over unchecked borders.
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Malmö, SwedenAbout 45 percent of Sweden's more than 160,000 asylum applicants in 2015 were denied or are expected to be denied in the year ahead. These Palestinian asylum-seekers tried to protest the decision.
We have forgotten that history is fundamentally tragic.
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Malmö, SwedenAfter police accused young migrants of killing a social worker, scores of masked men allegedly planned to strike back, terrorizing new arrivals with wooden clubs. Their rally cry: “It’s enough now!”

An “anti-Islamization” demonstration vandalized downtown Leipzig. Der Spiegel criticized Merkel for overseeing an era of “crime and chaos.” In the reconsidered opinion of most Germans, meanwhile, the country had “too many” migrants, according to a poll published by the German daily Bild. Back in September, the numbers were nearly reversed.

Finally, Merkel herself changed her tone. She pledged a crackdown on criminal asylum seekers.

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OXIE, SWEDENThe Swedish Migration Agency is organized to process about 1,000 refugees per week, just a 10th of the rate of entry in late 2015. But many are slowly settling in towns like this in the north.
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Svendborg, Denmark / Malmö, SwedenWhile Sweden warns of mass expulsions in the years ahead, Denmark stands accused of inhuman deterrent efforts, including the seizure of valuables.
Svendborg, Denmark / Malmö, SwedenWhile Sweden warns of mass expulsions in the years ahead, Denmark stands accused of inhuman deterrent efforts, including the seizure of valuables.
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Oxie, SwedenThe Sweden Democrats entered parliament in 2010 with a sliver of support, but after several years of rising migration, the populist anti-immigrant faction has tripled in size and is still gathering force.
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Svendborg, Denmark / Malmö, SwedenBoth Denmark and Sweden have introduced tighter border controls and harder asylum rules, hoping to reduce the flow of migrants. So far, however, there’s no sign of a slowdown.

Europe at large is even tougher. At every recent meeting of the European Union, the migrant crisis has dominated discussion, with most leaders still resisting a mandatory plan to share 160,000 refugees across the continent. Many months after the plan was announced, fewer than 500 people had been placed in new homes. That’s about 10 percent of the daily flow into Greece.

Pope Francis tried to intervene in January. He acknowledged the “inevitable difficulties” of absorbing new people but held out hope that Europe’s “humanistic spirit” would prevail. For now, Europe’s elected leaders respectfully disagree.

“We have forgotten,” French prime minster Manuel Valls recently told reporters, “that history is fundamentally tragic.”

MOISES SAMAN was born in Lima, Peru, from a mixed Spanish and Peruvian family, and he grew up in Spain. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Human Rights Watch, Newsweek, and Time, among other international publications. He has been honored with multiple awards and is the recipient of a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship. “As a photojournalist, I am interested in searching for the positive commonalities in human spirit, to expose those intimate moments among people that remind us of dignity and hope in the face of conflict.” His forthcoming book, “Discordia,” a personal memory of the nearly four years he spent living and working as a photojournalist in the Middle East during the Arab Spring from 2011 to 2014, was published in March 2016. Saman became a full member of Magnum in 2014. He now lives in Spain.