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‘Can we live up to the ideals we espouse?’ Doug Marshall (working with refugees in Malta) commentates on five 2016 World Press Photo images.
A. If this was your daughter, would you want to stay? If we are to love all, to sacrifice ourselves for all, how do we bring flourishing to this face? Refugees on our doorstep show us that we live in a connected world, where ignoring those who are unjustly treated is possible, but ungodly.
B. Photojournalism ethics have been broadly discussed since the widely used photo of Aylan Kurdi’s dead body, rightly or wrongly, jolted Europe into action. Asylum seekers have an innate dignity as people, and often just need a helping hand in helping them recover, not a paternalistic response which does neither the helper or the helped any good.
C. When first viewing this photo it is easy to miss the refugees filing passed in the background. Invisible. Typically this is how they have been treated, as something invisible and therefore ignored. Are we satisfied in keeping them obscured, marginalised? Do we trust in horses, chariots and power, or do we love the other, the stranger, relentlessly?
D. A haunting photo as a make-shift plastic rain coat distorts the face of a very much alive girl, suggesting suffocation. Refugees often describe their experience as suffocating as they try to fit into a region which has replaced community with institutional systems. Can the church meet the challenge of becoming a community for those displaced and dispossessed? We are commanded to love the alien and foreigner as we would love one of our own.
E. Closure and hope. This colour photo contrasts with the many monochrome offerings, an attempt at bringing hope to the situation. This crisis has held a mirror up to Europe and asked the question: can we live up to the ideals we espouse? As Christians, can we live up to the ideals of scripture in a world that operates to an economy different to God’s?
Doug Marshall is the team leader for the International Association For Refugees in Malta.