On September 19, 2015 I watched Middle-Eastern refugees and migrants being dropped off by bus at the Hungarian-Croatian border. Reporters lined up, waiting for the doors to open. I thought about how many times these people faced border crossings. Since leaving their homes, they cross at least four countries on foot before reaching Croatia, and at each border media ‘attacks’ them. I distanced myself from the rest of the photographers. I looked at faces through the window, wanting to find that one person I could connect with, that would trust me and not be annoyed by my camera.
An Afghan migrant family in Opatovac, Croatia, waiting to be in the camp area.
I saw two girls and a baby. When they stepped off, they ran up to me, hugging me.
It was a quiet night. You could only hear the rustle of bags being picked up; almost no one talked. I wrote my e-mail for the girls on a piece of paper, hoping the scrap would survive their journey and one day they would write me. I did this with a few people I felt a deep connection with. The girls got further away from me, and just when I was about to leave, someone yelled:
“What is your name?”
I turned around, shouted my name, and her response echoed across the border as she walked to the other side, “Lilian.”
For a moment I felt as if I’ve known her all of my life. And I did. I was that same Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi kid on the train, bus or boat. Croatia was a stop on my journey as well, and peace was the best fairytale of my time.
A day later, reporter from the Agence France-Presse, asked me, “When the girl hugged you, she left in such joy to the other side. Do you remember her name?” Tears were pouring down his face, just like mine when Lilian crossed. I wondered why this affected him? Was he a refugee once? “It’s just that as professionals, sometimes we forget to be human,” he said. I’ll never forget those moments, and this whole refugee crisis became a story I had to document.