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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Let's Get More Immigrants in Here. They're good for the place

So it's getting to that end of year graduation show time of year, so for starters here is Laura Book from Newport's Documentary Photography Course at the University of South Wales (I work there).

This project is called Pujasjarvi, a town where there are more reindeer than people, where the town has set the goal for more than one in ten of the local population to be immigrants by the year 2018. To that end, the town invited in refugees living in dangerous citcumstances. The Boukono family were one such group, and Book interlaces her pictures of life in this Finnish town with archive images that the Boukonos managed to preserve.

This openness to migration goes very much against what you hear about in most of the European news at present. Perhaps that's because the vast majority of  people in Europe are less small-minded than the media and political establishment would have us believe. And perhaps the protest votes (in the UK especially) are more to do with the failure of those political establishments to engage with people on any level than with an essential racism.

I like to think Book's work captures that ability to live together and get on with life no matter what the surface expectations - and a Congolese family living in one of the more isolated corners of Finland provides some pretty good surface expectations.

Here's the full statement. And look at more images here.

The journey started by a river. The Congo river is the second largest river in the world, but outside the Boukono family's house in Brazzaville, it is so small you can wave to the other side. When civil war was raging in Brazzaville in 1998, the family escaped their home and crossed the river to neighboring DR Congo and the harsh conditions of life in a refugee camp. Fifteen years later their journey ended by another river when the family moved into a house facing the Iijoki river in Finland, so far north you can walk on its frozen waters in wintertime.

The Boukono family came to Finland through a UNHCR program that resettles refugees living in particularly vulnerable conditions with no possibility of returning to their countries of origin. Pudasjärvi, the family's new hometown, has an aging and rapidly shrinking population. In order to keep the town alive, the council has set a goal that in 2018, one of ten residents would be an immigrant.

The series follows the Boukono family as their first winter in Finland is coming to an end. Interlaced in the story are photographs that have made a long and improbable journey together with the family. They too have barely escaped a war and some bear their own scars. The oldest images began their journey in Studio Papa Photo Josky in Brazzaville, where Flavien Boukono started working as a photographer in the 1970's. Later photographs record daily life and important celebrations in the refugee camp, shared with friends who are now far away. Some images carry memories too painful to recall.

As days become longer and the light finds its way back, the breaking ice sounds like gunshots in a still forest. The river that carried people's footsteps now carries blocks of ice, slowly changing their shape as they float down the stream. 

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