A Million Shillings - Alixandra Fazzina

(Courtesy of Trolley Books)

Recently I went to a book signing in London's The Photographers Gallery, for the book A Million Shillings - Escape from Somalia by Alixandra Fazzina.   

This is an indepth account, both written and in photographic form, of the plight of Somali's fleeing the bloodshed in their country for a better life abroad.   It is also pretty much an undocumented story since it is too dangerous for any Western organisation to exist within Somalia's borders.   Alixandra Fazzina has produced an amazing book and body of work, under the hardest of conditions, documenting some of the desparate and brutal lives of these forgotten people.

Click here to read this girls story. (Courtesy of Trolley Books)

Fleeing the gang warfare and violence inherent in Somalia, the refugees head North towards the coast, with a promise of a better life.   The journey overland to the smuggler towns, can take weeks and with danger around every turn.   The refugees are often beaten and robbed at temporary checkpoints along the roads, stripping them of their meagre possessions.  
Once reaching the town where the smugglers work from, many call their relatives to get money wired through to them to pay for the crossing to Yemen.   A Million Shillings, or 50 dollars is the price of this dangerous journey.   
Once the money is paid, the smugglers take them to the coast; a journey taking many weeks in cramped transportation before they have to wait for days, often out in the open on exposed beaches.   At this point the refugees have exhausted their food supplies and until they reach the coast of Yemen, will have nothing to eat.   

(Courtesy of Trolley Books)

Once the boats are ready, they wade out into the waters to get dragged up onboard the boats, where they are tied together in a chain by the smugglers for the journey ahead.   
The smugglers are violent men and abuse and kill the refugees at many points on the crossing.   Summary executions are often held on the beach where trouble makers are lined up kneeling on the beach before they are shot.  
On the boats the situation is no better.   They have to sit with their legs pulled in; stretching out your legs can mean a beating or even death.   Anyone who complains can also be killed and thrown overboard in the 2 to 3 day crossing.
Once reaching the Yemen coast, due to police patrols, the refugees are thrown overboard often 2 kilometres off the coast.   Many can't swim and others are too exhausted to make it to the beaches.   

Only 1 in 20 people survive the journey.

If they make it to the beaches of Yemen they are faced with few options in this country.   Their situation is dire due to the amount of people arriving in the refugee camps and cities in Yemen, and often find that their lives consist of searching for food and a fight for survival.

(Courtesy of Trolley Books)

This book is an amazing accomplishment.   Often risking her own life to gain access to the refugees, Alixandra was shot at by the human traffickers, but persevered with talks with the smugglers to gain an inside view of the story.   The photos on the beaches of Somalia, showing the refugees boarding the boats could have been taken in no other way.   The story is comprehensive and deep, showing the horrific world these people have been born into.

Some of the most heartbreaking parts of this book are the many personal stories of the refugees both in Somalia and across Yemen.   These interviews are stories of unimaginable hardship and loss, often with a bleak future ahead.   The story of Salima on Alixandra Fazzina's website is one such story.

This should not only be classed as a photobook but also as a piece of journalism of the highest calibre, since the coverage of the story is so deep and intense.   In my previous post, I noted that if the current media does not start focussing on quality, they will become obsolete.   They should take a look at this book and learn what real journalism is.

The photos are underexposed which creates a brooding mood that fits perfectly with the story.   They are eerily beautiful.   They also put faces to the stories which gives the stories context in the real world.

I hope that this book can make it into the hands of anyone with enough money, power or control to do something to fix this situation.   Hopefully the mainstream press can show a section of the story, to gain publicity for this book and the ongoing situation in Somalia.   I also hope to see this book in future photojournalism awards.

The main issue with this situation is that there is no big event for people to take note.   The situation has progressively degraded over many years, which allows the situation to go unnoticed by the mainsteam media, which often focusses on sensationalism.
This book gives a voice to these forgotten people but the question is, will anyone listen?

(Courtesy of Trolley Books

If you want to contribute to helping these people, go to and donate.