Nice Pontoon, France
Over 800 migrants, men, women and children, from North Africa – Libya, Syria and Eritrea, drowned yesterday in the southern Mediterranean Sea, whilst attempting an illegal night crossing, near Libya’s coast and also, another boat sunk in southern Greece. According to reports, there are an estimated 1,000,000 migrants amassed in Libyan ports waiting to take these perilous journeys to cross over to Europe. These people pay thousands of dollars each to human traffickers to get onboard unseaworthy boats, with little or no food, medicine and technical skills, hoping they will be be picked up by Italian coastguards. They are desperate to escape persecution, civil war, famine and disease, but exploited by ruthless gangs to come to Europe, where, supposedly, life is better.
‘More than 1,750 migrants have perished in the Mediterranean since the start of the year – more than 30 times higher than during the same period of 2014, the International Organisation for Migration said on Tuesday.’ – The Times.
The figures are staggering.
‘It is thought that the Italian Navy saved some 170,000 boat people in 2014 and brought them to Italy. It is also thought Italy’s centre-Left government then lost all trace of 100,000 of them once inside Italy.’
I can’t even attempt to guess what the solution to this will be. Stop the boats? How? Accept the migrants? Where to house them? When people are desperate to survive they will leave everything, risk everything to seek ‘Eldorado’. Then, there’s always the threat from ISIS using this guise to enter Europe.
Today, at Dapur, London overlunch, Haliza and myself signed the last copy of Malaysians a photobook which we jointly published in 2006 with a print run of 2,000 copies. We collaborated on this simple but informative book about Malaysia, Malaysians and our varied ethnic make up with simple head shot portraits.
Below is what I wrote in 2006 :
“MALAYSIANS Photographs by Steven Lee and text by Haliza Hashim-Doyle
A new coffee table book celebrating the unique and diverse ethnicity of Malaysia today : Hardback 148mm x 210mm 512 Pages
“Few things amaze visitors to Malaysia, besides its incredible economic development, than the diversity of its people. Even then, if one only visits one city or two, or a beach or mountain resort, the full spectrum of the multiethnic salad we call Malaysia cannot be fully appreciated. It is only when we see photographs of all of them, side by side as in this book that we know what Malaysian diversity truly means.” Foreword by Marina Mahathir.
The idea of producing another pictorial book on Malaysia came about in 2005 when I noticed that there was not a single publication in the bookstores in Malaysia and in the UK, that depicted the people of the country. There were several existing publications showing the sights of the country, its many amazing places of interests and our national monuments, but none showed the diversity of Malaysians, its fascinating mix of races, its cultural heritage and its rich traditions.
From this point of departure, I began researching into this project and gathered my resources together and now, am glad to say, the project is underway. As a portrait photographer I am always on the look out for an interesting face. It is after all, a face that one sees first, as a visitor to a new country or place, it is also the first impression of a nation.
The book does not aim to document each and every race and creed. That would be quite impossible. However, it does represent a true cross-section of the nation as I see it during our travels across the length and breadth of the country. This glimpse of a ‘Malaysian’ identity, a vision of a Bangsa Malaysia, will be evident through the faces I portray and the stories and quotes that follow, will hopefully encompass all.
A country like Malaysia thus begins this series, because it is my Malaysia, my country and my people. SL”